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July 15 is the target for a long-term Dak Prescott deal, or not

Cowboys COO Stephen Jones chats with Mike Florio about the expectations in Dallas for 2020 after a successful draft and the addition of Mike McCarthy.

Deadlines drive NFL business. For the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott, there’s only one deadline that matters: July 15.

That’s when the window closes on any franchise-tagged player signing a multi-year contract. During Friday’s #PFTPM, Cowboys COO, executive V.P., and director of player personnel Stephen Jones was asked whether it makes sense to watch and wait for something to happen, or not, on July 15.

“I think so,” Jones said. “I mean, at the end of the day I know everybody’s out there, ‘How have you not paid Dak?’ At the same time, we’ve tried to pay him, and he has to accept what we want to pay him. But the deal’s got to be right for Dak, it’s gotta be right for us. As you know, the salary cap makes this a zero-sum game for owners. This is not something where Jerry and myself are trying to save money so the Cowboys can make more money for the Jones family. We’re just trying to do our very best working with [coach] Mike [McCarthy], working with [V.P. of player personnel] Will McClay. Really divide up the pie in the best way possible to win a Super Bowl.”

The Cowboys are balancing Prescott’s demands against the realities of having enough cap space left to pay the rest of the players.

“There’s all sorts of analytics out there that show if your quarterback takes up too big a percentage of your salary cap, it decreases your chances to win,” Jones said. “We’re just trying to figure out the right fit. No one wants to sign Dak to a longer term deal more than Jerry and myself. We’re on the record time and time again on what we think of him as a leader. He has the ‘it’ factor. He’s a fierce competitor. He wants to win as well, and it’s just gotta be right for him and right for us. We’ll continue to work to a conclusion on that.”

Jones then was asked about whether the $31.4 million franchise tender for 2020 with the reality that the tender would spike to $37.68 million for 2021 (a two-year payout of more than $69 million) has become an impediment to striking a long-term deal. Jones didn’t bite.

“We’re only focused on getting a long-term deal on Dak,” Jones said. “We’re not focused on next year, the year after that. We’ll have the resources. We all know quarterback’s the most important position on this team. We won’t ever be in a position where we can’t tender a franchise offer. But our strict focus is on signing Dak to a long term deal.”

How about whether the team is more comfortable with the possibility of Dak staying away from training camp and the preseason now that Andy Dalton is on the roster? Strike two.

“Like I said only thing I can speak to right now -- only thing I can speak to is that we’re trying to sign [Prescott] to a long-term deal,” Jones said. “He’s a competitor. He loves this football team. He knows that we’re trying to put a great football team together and we’re gonna focus on getting him signed.”

So there it is. Just like Dez Bryant in 2015, July 15 is the focal point for getting a long-term deal done. Or not.

The Cowboys want to get it done, but Prescott has leverage that no other player has had. He can make nearly $70 million over the next two seasons and then most likely force his way to the open market, given that the franchise tender for 2022 would be a whopping $54.25 million.

That’s the calculation the Cowboys are facing. And Dak has done nothing to suggest that he will do anything other than drive the hardest possible bargain, based on his circumstances. Otherwise, he’d already have a long-term deal.