We know this much about Dak Prescott: He'll be the starting quarterback for the Cowboys in 2020. What we don't know is whether he'll be in Dallas in 2021. And if he isn't, should GM Ryan Pace move all his chips to the center of the table to bring the soon-to-be 27-year-old to Chicago?
Prescott and the Cowboys failed to reach an agreement on a long-term deal prior to the deadline for players who were hit with the franchise tag. As a result, he'll earn $31.4 million this season and is scheduled once again to become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Dallas has plenty of time between now and the start of next year's free-agency period to ink their franchise passer to a multi-year deal, but with Patrick Mahomes resetting the quarterback market with an average annual salary of $45 million, there's at least a chance that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will go in another direction, especially if Prescott doesn't lead Dallas on a deep playoff run.
The Bears, meanwhile, are entering a 2020 season with a first-round bust battling a journeyman veteran for the starting quarterback position. It isn't exactly the recipe that Super Bowl teams are made of. Naturally, if Prescott is available? Consider the Bears the most likely destination, assuming Pace puts his big-boy pants on like he did with Khalil Mack and does whatever it takes to solve the riddle that's plagued Chicago's football team since its inception.
The Cowboys aren't going to just let Prescott stroll into free agency. If they decide it's time to part ways, they'll do so via the franchise tag-and-trade routine. There's no doubt the asking price for Prescott will be at least two first-round picks, and with the Bears' draft arsenal restocked now that their Mack debt is fully paid, they'll have the necessary assets to pounce. And before you say Prescott isn't worth two first-rounders? I repeat: The Bears have a Mitch Trubisky vs. Nick Foles quarterback competition coming.
If Pace wants Prescott, and the Cowboys don't, trade compensation will be the easy part. The more difficult task will be the contract that comes along with Dak; it's going to be a bank-buster and Chicago isn't swimming in a pool of money right now.
Assessing a team's salary cap situation is kind of like looking at the weather app on your phone; you get a general idea of what's coming, but it's never 100% accurate. For the Bears, we can reasonably project about $12.3 million in cap space (factoring the top-51 players on the roster) in 2021, per Spotrac. That'll change, for sure. Some contracts will be washed off the books, other contracts will get inflated through extensions (cough -- A-Rob -- cough), and the salary cap itself normally increases. Although, COVID-19 could make 2021 the rare exception to that general rule.
No matter how you slice it, Chicago currently ranks in the bottom five teams in the league entering next year's salary cap projections. Taken at face value, it certainly doesn't feel like this is a team that can absorb a $40 million per year quarterback.
But the NFL plays with funny money, and for the sake of argument, we'll assume that Pace and his capologists make it work. If they do, is Dak the right guy?
Uh, yeah. He is.
Prescott threw for 4,902 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season and ran for another 277 and three scores. It's true that the box score doesn't tell the full story of a player's ability, but for Bears fans who've never witnessed a 4,000-yard quarterback in franchise history? This is a gorgeous stat line.
Prescott passes the eyeball test too. He makes good things happen; he's a very good athlete with a very accurate arm who has a very good head on his shoulders. He makes good reads, he commands the huddle and he's charismatic. And let's not forget one of the most critical points of them all: he's just entering his prime.
The best-case scenario for the Bears is a Trubisky breakthrough season that's overflowing with highlight-reel throws and double-digit wins. Maybe he crosses the 4,000-yard mark and proves to Chicago that they already have their "Prescott" in place.
But if he doesn't (which is the more likely outcome), Pace will have a shot to fix his biggest blunder at the game's most important position with a colossal trade for Prescott next year.