As Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in Week 5 against the Giants, the first concern was his health. Images of the injury and the reaction of Prescott and others showed that his season was over.
Though the initial surgery went well and Prescott is in good spirits, another reality set in shortly after: The talented passer's financial future is now in jeopardy.
It's been well-known that the fifth-year pro and the Cowboys were unable to structure a long-term deal in the offseason, forcing Prescott to be franchised tagged for the 2020 season. While he's making $31.4 million this year, what comes next is unclear. An injury sidelining him only raises more questions.
Former Washington and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback is very familiar with the franchise tag situation. During the 2016 and 2017 season in Washington, Cousins was tagged as the two sides could not work out a new deal.
The quarterback believes it was the right move, and even mention to Prescott in 2019 to not shy away from the tag.
"My message to Dak, when I saw him midseason last year, was, 'Hey, whatever happens, don't be afraid of the tag. It can be your friend, and you can use it to your advantage,'" Cousins said to ESPN.
"I believe the franchise tag can be your friend," Cousins said. "I don’t think it’s something to be disappointed with. I think it enables you to be well compensated, and deservedly so, for the upcoming season."
However, there was one stipulation to playing under the tag that Cousins saw as essential. Playing with no financial security for the future, Cousins made sure to take out an injury insurance policy for those seasons. That way, if a major injury derailed his season, he would still be able to take care of himself and his family.
That advice is something Cousins noted he would pass on to Prescott during an interview on the "10 Questions With Kyle Brandt" podcast prior to the regular season.
“Well that would be my advice, honestly. Would be make sure you have an insurance policy," Cousins said. "That’s the cost of doing business. If you’re willing to write that check and pay for that cost, go play football.”
“And again he even, far more than I did, has a track record now where, regardless of what happens in 2020 or 2021, he’s proven then what he can do. So it’s really not going to change my perceived value of him or his value really to teams, I would think is pretty much steady.”
Now, that suggestion reigns truer following Prescott's injury. It's unclear whether or not he followed what Cousins did, but he is now in the situation that the former Washington quarterback feared the most. Despite a hot start to 2020, everything is now in limbo.
While Cousins believes that Prescott has shown enough in the past to earn a big contract no matter what came this season, a serious health problem will bring with it consequences. The NFL is a business more than anything, and if the Cowboys don't think Prescott is worth his value prior to the injury, the Brinks truck may not be backed up.
For now, Prescott's main focus will be on his recovery, and rightfully so. Eventually, the time to determine his next contract in the NFL will come. It was a freak incident, but one that complicates the already complicated nature of playing under the franchise tag.
When Cousins went through the situation, many considered it a major risk. Based on his explanation of what went into the situation and the plans he put in place, it is clear he was prepared for any circumstance.
For quarterbacks who may end up down a similar path down the line, it may be wise to consider Cousins' advice.