Dak Finally Gets Paid: What Took So Long and What's Next for Dallas?

The seemingly endless Dak Prescott contract saga is finally over. The Dallas Cowboys agreed to a deal with their franchise quarterback that guarantees him $126 million over the next four seasons, and carries a record signing bonus of $66 million. Dak can earn upwards of $164 million if he earns the max value of his contract. This deal initially put the Cowboys over the salary cap (officially set at $182.5 million), but restructuring the deals of offensive linemen Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, and Zack Martin along with the release of fullback Jamize Olawale have given the Cowboys just over $19 million in cap space per Over the Cap. Cutting punter Chris Jones would save $2 million towards the cap, and he is expendable after the performance of Hunter Niswander last season. Cutting Anthony Brown would also free up $2.75 million, or he could be restructured. Other restructure candidates include Demarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys can easily add some useful veterans in free agency if they decide to do so (and hopefully stop shopping in the discount aisle, it hasn’t worked!). A healthy Dak and offensive line will help a lot, but without some additions to the defense, this team is going to struggle to be a legitimate contender outside of a weak NFC East. Dak bet on himself and won. The Cowboys failed to meet his contract demands two seasons ago when he was extension eligible, and last season when Dak played on the franchise tag despite finishing second in the league in passing in 2019. Unfortunately, Prescott only played in five games last year before a gruesome leg injury knocked him out for the season. However, he was on pace for some career best numbers. He had a career high 68% completion percentage and 78.7 QBR behind an offensive line that battled injuries and underperformance for much of the year. Instead of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins at tackle, the Cowboys turned to some combination of Cam Erving, Brandon Knight, and undrafted rookie free agent Terrence Steele. Couple that with the loss of Travis Frederick, the struggles of Joe Looney to replace him, and the growing pains of rookie 4th-rounder Tyler Biadasz, and the Cowboys line was in shambles all season. Which makes Dak’s average of 371.2 passing yards per game last season all the more impressive. For reference, 2020 MVP Aaron Rodgers only had 268.7 yards per game while Patrick Mahomes had 316. This is not to say Dak is better than either quarterback, and he certainly was forced to throw the ball a lot do to a historically porous defense (he averaged 44.4 attempts per game despite only throwing 21 times before his injury against the Giants). Overall, Prescott has a 42-27 record as a starting QB, is a 2-time Pro Bowler, 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year, and has led the Cowboys to two NFC East titles. That begs the question: what took Dallas so long to sign Dak? Don’t let the numbers here foul you into thinking the Cowboys lost out on this deal. Last offseason, the Cowboys wanted a 5-year deal and Dak wanted a 4-year deal so he could hit the market sooner and secure another big payday. Therefore, Dak played last season on a franchise tag worth just over $31 million. So effectively, the Cowboys got Dak for their desired 5 years at $157 million guaranteed and potential earnings upwards of $195 million. Both sides seemed to get what they wanted in this deal, even if it took way longer than it had to for them to get there. After the new TV contract becomes final and Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen sign their new deals, this could actually look like a bargain in a few years. So what's next for the Cowboys? With over $19 million in cap space and the ability to create more, the Cowboys can actually make some noise in free agency this year. The market will be depressed in light of the COVID pandemic leading to some very team friendly deals for really good players. Also, even more good players will become available as teams try to stay cap compliant after the salary cap decreased by $16 million from last year. The Cowboys strategy in free agency of late has been to sign veterans to low risk deals so they can draft the best player available in April, but it has not worked out too well. Of last offseason's top defensive additions, only Aldon Smith lasted the entire season in Dallas. HaHa Clinton Dix didn't even make the team out of training camp. Gerald McCoy tore his ACL in the first week of practice, and missed the entire season. Everson Griffin was traded to the Detroit Lions for a sixth-round pick that can become a fifth-rounder. Lastly, Daryl Worley and Dontari Poe were released after seven games. The Cowboys can make a splash in free agency, and should look to sign a run stuffing defensive tackle (Dalvin Tomlinson anyone?) to help a porous defensive. His addition could help Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch return to form by eating up blocks for them, something the Cowboys have lacked for quite some time. The Cowboys should also look to finally invest at safety with Dan Quinn calling the shots for the defense. The architect of the Legion of Boom can help this defense, but not without talent around him. Perhaps the Cowboys also look to add a corner in free agency to pair with Trevon Diggs and the potential number 10 overall selection. If the Cowboys can add talent in free agency and hit on their four draft picks in the top 100 selections, their defense could take a huge step forward in 2021. By the way, if there are any Cowboy fans who still don’t like the Dak deal, remember this. The Eagles have a higher dead money hit for Carson Wentz in 2021 than the Cowboys cap hit for Dak Prescott.