How 49ers could benefit from Cowboys mishandling Dak Prescott contract

How 49ers could benefit from Cowboys mishandling Dak Prescott contract

The Dallas Cowboys would appear to be one of the most likely teams to contend with the 49ers in the NFC this coming season. They better, because they've backed themselves into a corner with some truly head-scratching decisions that seem likely to shorten their contending window.

Every team wants the best players, but that's simply not possible in a salary cap-governed sport. The secret to building -- and maintaining -- a contender is getting production from the most key positions without having to pay market value. That's why the draft is so extremely important.

The Cowboys, it would appear, have disregarded that strategy. Last September, they gave running back Ezekiel Elliot a six-year, $90 million contract. Then, back in March, they signed receiver Amari Cooper to a five-year, $100 million contract. And finally, they failed to reach a contract extension with quarterback Dak Prescott at Wednesday's franchise tag deadline, which ultimately will amount to them either paying him more in the long run than they would have now, trading him, or losing him for nothing but a third-round compensatory draft pick.

Not all of the money in those contracts is guaranteed, mind you. But Dallas nonetheless is in a precarious financial situation, particularly given the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to Spotrac, the Cowboys enter the 2020 season as the only team in the league that has a top-three cap hit at both the quarterback (first) and running back (third) positions, while Cooper's ranks 16th among all wide receivers. For the 2021 season, however, all three cap hits will surge upward, as Elliot's ($13.7 million) will lead all running backs and Cooper's ($22.0 million) will rank second among all wideouts.

Prescott's 2021 cap hit, on the other hand, remains up in the air. Since the Cowboys didn't reach an agreement with him prior to Wednesday's deadline, they cannot negotiate another contract with him until the conclusion of the 2020 league year. If they choose to franchise tag him for a second straight offseason, Prescott will make $37.7 million in 2021. 

If they sign him to a long-term extension, you can be sure it'll cost them more per season than it would have last week, as he'll be able to negotiate off of any other quarterback contracts signed over that span. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, for instance, seems likely to sign an extension before Prescott does. And, if Dallas was to apply the franchise tag to Prescott for a third consecutive offseason in 2022, the cap hit would explode to an unreal $54.3 million.

Let's just focus on 2021, though. The Cowboys already have $173 million counting toward the 2021 salary cap, though they'll roll over approximately $10 million in additional cap space from 2020. Let's say they tag Prescott again. Suddenly, they're at nearly $210 million in expenses, which theoretically wouldn't be too hard to fit within the salary cap if it holds steady at $198.7 million. Of course, it's highly unlikely to hold steady.

The salary cap is almost certain to drop significantly due to the loss of league revenue resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The only question is, by how much?

ESPN's Bill Barnwell laid out how cumbersome Prescott's 2021 cap hit could be depending on how much the salary cap drops. As he explained, if the salary cap were to drop to $150 million, "the $37.7 million the Cowboys would have to pay Prescott next year would feel more like paying him $51.3 million under their current cap situation."

You could argue that Prescott, Elliot and Cooper all are worth what they'll be paid in 2021. But if their combined cap hits amount to $73.4 million, that's nearly 50 percent of a $150 million salary cap spent on three players. You simply cannot win in the NFL like that. Whatever the 2021 salary cap is, those three will take up a huge chunk of it.

Paying Elliot what they did was questionable, as there's an argument that's a waste of cap space at a position where you could find much cheaper alternatives, but still get similar production. Cooper's deal looks more ridiculous now after Dallas drafted CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, as he projects as a true No. 1 receiver.

Not reaching an agreement with Prescott now, however, might be the straw that broke the camel's back. It has been reported that the sticking point was that Dallas was unwilling to give him a four-year deal, and they're extremely likely to regret that in the not-too-distant future if that's the case.

[RELATE: What 49ers can learn from Chiefs' deals with Mahomes, Jones]

Assuming Prescott doesn't significantly regress in 2020, he is only going to cost the Cowboys more moving forward. Not to mention, the closer he gets to unrestricted free agency, the more teams will be vying for his services, thereby driving up his price.

The Cowboys should be good in 2020. Great, perhaps. But while their present appears bright, it likely won't be long until they're facing a very dark reality.

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

Much like 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz's top receiving threat on the Philadelphia Eagles happens to be a tight end. But while the former two got great news Thursday with the announcement of George Kittle's and Travis Kelce's respective contract extensions, the latter's future outlook became even darker than it was before.

At this point, it's very difficult to see how Wentz will have Zach Ertz to throw to beyond this coming season. And even if he does, that likely means the Eagles won't be competitive to begin with.

Kittle and Kelce unquestionably are the two premier tight ends in the league -- in that order -- and they're now paid accordingly with the two highest annual salaries ever at the position. There's a shortlist of players in discussion for the next-best tight end in the NFL, and Ertz is on it.

Like Kittle and Kelce prior to signing their extensions, Ertz is under contract beyond the upcoming season. And like Kittle and Kelce rightfully were, he reportedly is seeking a raise commensurate with his production.

However, that's unlikely to come from Philadelphia. The Eagles already were going to be in salary-cap hell next season, and that was before Kittle and Kelce obliterated the previous tight end market.

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The Eagles currently are projected to have over $262 million in cap liabilities for next season. Last month, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that the 2021 salary cap wouldn't drop any lower than $175 million due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But regardless of whether the 2021 cap decreases or remains flat at $198 million, Philadelphia is going to have to cut costs to a significant degree.

Though Ertz carries a $12.4 million cap hit in 2021 in the final season of his current contract, he already seemed to be one of the most likely candidates to be cut by the Eagles, as doing so would create an additional $4.7 million in cap space. Not to mention, they already have a younger, cheaper and arguably better tight end in Dallas Goedert who makes Ertz somewhat redundant.

Assuming the Eagles actually do sign Ertz to an extension, though, that would in all likelihood increase their 2021 cap liabilities and remove their ability to create immediate cap space by cutting him. They're already going to have to part ways with some of the best players on their roster, and signing Ertz to the kind of deal he is looking for would further deplete their depth.

[RELATED: Kittle's record 49ers contract still a huge steal]

Now, the Eagles definitely could lower their 2021 cap liabilities with some creative maneuvering. Look no further than the Chiefs, who managed to sign Mahomes, Kelce and star defensive tackle Chris Jones to humongous contract extensions this offseason despite having exactly $171 in total cap space on March 30. That said, Kansas City was nowhere close to the kind of 2021 cap trouble that Philadelphia already finds itself in, and no matter how creative the Eagles get, it's not going to change the reality of the situation.

That reality would appear to be quite dark whether or not they keep Ertz around.

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Perhaps nobody can relate to Tom Brady better than Joe Montana.

That might be as weird for Brady to read as it was seeing Montana play for Kansas City, considering Brady, a San Mateo native, grew up idolizing the Hall of Fame quarterback and rooting for the 49ers. But Brady has supplanted Dan Marino as sports radio callers' alternative to Montana in age-old "Which QB is better?" debates, and arguably has surpassed Montana as the greatest quarterback ever.

Brady, like Montana, will begin the twilight of his career in a uniform other than the one most associated with his journey to greatness. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency after spending two decades with the New England Patriots, and Brady told Montana he didn't think his input was valued enough by the Patriots.

"I think that was one of his beefs up there," Montana recalled to USA Today Sports' Mackenzie Salmon in an interview published Wednesday. "He told me, 'They ask my advice, I tell them and then they don't take it.' So, I think he would like a little bit of input and I think they'll probably let him have that, especially with the success he's had."

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Montana's two-season tenure with Kansas City is a blip on the NFL's historical record, but he wasn't a bust. Before Patrick Mahomes led the team to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances during the 2018 and '19 seasons (as well as a win in Super Bowl LIV), Montana was the only QB to lead Kansas City to an AFC Championship appearance since the first moon landing. Were it not for a concussion in the '93 conference championship, Montana might've helped Kansas City end its Super Bowl drought a quarter-century before Mahomes did. 

The Buccaneers would almost certainly take that, considering the franchise's anonymity since winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Montana thinks trading Foxboro's frigid winters for Tampa will do wonders for Brady's psyche.

"I think he's gonna have fun," Montana said. "He'll be in a better place for him mentally, he'll be happier and if you look at what they did offensively last year, they threw up some crazy numbers. So you add Tom into the mix and the big knucklehead tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and they'll be fun to watch."

[RELATED: Why Kittle's record 49ers contract still is a huge steal]

Brady, 45, is signed for as many years with Tampa Bay as Montana played with Kansas City. He already has two more Super Bowl rings (six) than his idol, and Brady will aim to top Montana once again by doing what he couldn't and winning a title with a second franchise.

If that happens, Brady and Montana might not end up with much left to relate to after all.