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Cowboys plan to use exclusive tag on Dak Prescott

The Cowboys and Dak Prescott spoke about a new deal for the first time since September as Dallas tries to avoid using the franchise tag on its quarterback this offseason.

For those who have a lifetime subscription to PFT (i.e., anyone), the question of whether the Cowboys will use the non-exclusive or exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott first emerged in October. With March approaching, the Cowboys apparently have made their choice.

Via Ian Rapoport of the NFL, the Cowboys will apply the exclusive version of the tag to Prescott. While that limits Prescott’s ability to potentially leave the Cowboys, it also gives him considerably more leverage in talks on a long-term contract.

The non-exclusive tag, which provides a theoretical path to a new city (but entails a pair of first-round picks as compensation), likely will be in the range of $27 million for 2020. The exclusive version will come from the average of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in 2020, based on cap number.

That average will be subject to change, as quarterbacks sign new contracts and as quarterbacks currently under contract restructure their deals to reduce cap numbers. Ultimately, the number locks in at the end of the restricted free agency signing period, in April.

Currently, the five highest-paid quarterbacks based on 2020 cap number are Rams quarterback Jared Goff ($36 million), Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ($33.5 million), Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ($31 million), Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ($31 million), and 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($26.6 million). That’s an average of $31.62 million, and it could go up or down in the coming weeks.

Assuming it stays the same for present purposes, Dak can choose to continue to refuse long-term offers from the Cowboys, eventually sign the tender (he can wait until Labor Day weekend or thereabouts), make $31.62 million this year, and then be in line for a 20-percent raise in 2021. That’s $37.9 million in the second year of the tag.

That’s also an average of $34.7 million over the next two years, and it would set Prescott up for a one-year salary of $54.63 million in 2022 -- which likely means that the Cowboys wouldn’t use the franchise tender a third time on Prescott.

The challenge for the Cowboys will be to offer Prescott a long-term deal that causes him to sacrifice his year-to-year earning potential under the exclusive tag and, eventually, the power that he will have. And that’s the only analysis that matters at that point. Market becomes irrelevant. Contracts signed by the likes of Tom Brady and Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill become irrelevant. The math relative to the exclusive tag drives the discussion at that point, and the sum and structure will need to be enough to make Dak abandon the ability to put a major squeeze on the Cowboys.

And no one should get mad at Prescott for doing it. The Cowboys could let Prescott become an unrestricted free agent, allowing the market to determine his value. Instead, the team is choosing to exercise its rights under the CBA to keep Prescott in place. That decision unlocks a chess match that gives Prescott some very potent pieces that players often are reluctant to use to their full potential.

Le’Veon Bell did. Kirk Cousins and Trumaine Johnson did. Prescott has done nothing over the past year to suggest that he won’t.