Anytime you start talking about franchise tagging your QB someone took a wrong turn somewhere. Whether it was the player’s performance (or lack of) or the front office’s performance (or lack of). In this case it’s a combo of both. Dak has been really REALLY good and deserving of a starting spot in the NFL, but he has not been transcendently great or considered a top 5 QB at any point. The front office has been much better of late at drafting players but are still recovering from a cap room disaster during the Romo era. I mean the team had to cut Demarcus Ware just to get under the cap and he was arguably the team’s greatest defensive player of all time (it’s a lengthy but deserving argument).
Think about it like this, at one point we had Dak, Zeke, Coop, Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylen Smith, and Byron Jones on rookie contracts and STILL HAD NO CAP ROOM. The most we’ve been able to spend per year on a free agent in the last 5 years was a 2-year $12 million dollar contract to Allen Hurns ($6M per year). That’s awful. We were unable to take advantage and stack talent during this crucial window. Great drafting has put us in a good but not so good situation where now we can’t afford to pay them all.
According to OverTheCap.com the Cowboys have $76 million in cap space this offseason, 5th most. Currently Dak is the 76th highest paid QB in the league just behind Garrett Gilbert of the Browns (Yes, the guy who came in for Colt McCoy in the national championship game). If they give Dak $40 million a year or the franchise tag of around $35M next year that cuts their remaining cap in half. In fact, if they gave Dak $40M a year that would make up 20% of the entire 2020 cap which is set at $200M total. You’re paying one player 20% of the cap and you still have 52 others to sign with the remining 80%. There’s more. You’re paying Demarcus Lawrence 10% of your cap and Zeke 7.5%. So between just 3 players you have used 37.5% of your cap. You still have good players to consider resigning like Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, and Randall Cobb.
I would like to see Dak play in a new system this year so we can try to determine if it was Jason Garrett’s system that was holding him back. I guess that’s what the franchise tag is for? Well no it’s not and if you’re using it for that purpose you've taken a wrong turn somewhere. Dak is going to get $35M to $40M a year on the open market even if he has a repeat of last season (who some would say is a good season especially statistically). So, the price is only going up. Kirk Cousins got around $30M/yr. a few years ago, Kirk freakin Cousins!!! and Jarod Goff makes about $33M/yr. and did you see him play last season? He turned into the west coast Mitch Trubiski.
The question isn’t do they want to bring him back because of course they do. The question is at what price and right now the two sides are too far apart. But if you’re not prepared to pay your franchise QB “franchise QB money” then why sign him at all? I know the Jones’s are master negotiators, but this doesn’t seem like trying to get a team friendly deal. It seems like trying not to overpay for a guy you think is good but not great. You open up the checkbook for a Patrick Mahomes; you take your time and negotiate the best deal for a Dak Prescott.