Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who is in the final year of his four-year rookie contract, is asking for $40 million per year, unless he isn’t. There were conflicting reports on Monday about the accuracy of a $40 million per year demand. Previous reports in June had Prescott seeking a new deal in the $34 million per year neighborhood.
Prescott is represented by Todd France of Creative Artist Agency Football. France is the co-agent of Rams defensive interior lineman Aaron Donald, who became the NFL‘s first $20 million per year non-quarterback last preseason.
One thing that seems to be universally accepted is Prescott turning down a $30 million per year offer. Cowboys Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Stephen Jones characterized the offer made to Prescott, who is scheduled to make $2.025 million this season, as top-five quarterback money. $30 million per year in a vacuum is meaningless. Structure is everything in NFL contracts because the deals aren’t fully guaranteed as they are in MLB and the NBA.
Details about the rejected offer haven’t been leaked publicly, but an attempt to create what a good faith $30 million per year offer could look like can be made with a pretty good understanding of the top of the quarterback market and Dallas’ most lucrative contracts.
QB market summary
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers entered the offseason as the NFL’s highest-paid player at $33.5 million per year. He signed a four-year, $134 million contract extension worth a maximum of $138 million through salary escalators and incentives last preseason. The deal has $98.2 million in guarantees, of which $78.7 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson surpassed Rodgers as the NFL’s highest-paid player in April. He received a four-year, $140 million extension averaging $35 million per year. The maximum value is $146 million because of salary escalators. Wilson’s contract has $107 million in guarantees, which was the most ever for an NFL player at that time. $70 million was fully guaranteed at signing, which includes an NFL-record $65 million signing bonus. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, 37, signed a two-year, $68 million extension shortly before late April’s NFL Draft.
The most recent data point in the quarterback marketplace is Carson Wentz’s deal. The Eagles gave him a four-year, $128 million extension averaging $32 million per year in early June. The deal is worth up to $144 million through salary escalators. Wentz’s almost $108 million in guarantees are an NFL record. Just over $66 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
The chart below summarizes the top five for quarterbacks in average yearly salary, total guarantees and amount fully guaranteed at signing.
|Rank||Average Salary||Contract Guarantees||Fully Guaranteed|
|1||$35M (Wilson)||$107,870,683 (Wentz)||$94.5M (Ryan)|
|2||$34M (Roethlisberger)||$107M (Wilson)||$84M (Cousins)|
|3||$33.5M (Rodgers)||$100M (Ryan)||$78.7M (Rodgers)|
|4||$32M (Wentz)||$98.2M (Rodgers)||$70M (Wilson)|
|5||$30M (Ryan)||$92M (Stafford)||$66,470,683 (Wentz)|
Cowboys’ preferred structure
The Cowboys prefer lucrative veteran contracts to be structured with a fairly significant signing bonus. The $25 million signing bonus defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence received as a part of the five-year, $105 million extension he signed in April is the league’s fifth largest for a non-quarterback.
The base salaries in the first two years are fully guaranteed, and any guarantees beyond the second year are conditional. Base salary guarantees after the second contract year are for injury only initially at signing but become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year early instead during that specific year. For example, Lawrence’s $17 million 2021 base salary is guaranteed for injury. The skill and salary cap guarantees for the $17 million kick in on the fifth day of the 2020 league year, which is next March 22. The most lucrative Dallas contracts typically contain a $500,000 base salary de-escalator for less than 90 percent participation in the offseason workout program.
The Cowboys favor lengthy deals for the best players. Lawrence has the shortest at five years. Center Travis Frederick and offensive guard Zack Martin signed six-year extensions. Offensive tackle Tyron Smith received an eight-year extension. He was under contract for 10 years because he had two years left on his rookie deal when he signed. Tony Romo, Prescott’s predecessor, signed a six-year extension in 2013, which was his last NFL contract.
It’s extremely unlikely France would consider any offer in which Prescott gives up more than five new years because of the way the quarterback market has been escalating. France is probably pushing for a three- or four-year extension, so at the latest Prescott would have an expiring contract at age 30. The deals Wentz and Wilson signed this offseason are four-year extensions, but based on their history, the Cowboys probably don’t want to follow suit with Prescott.
How the money is allocated throughout a new deal will be of the utmost importance to Prescott. The Cowboys should recognize that any good faith offers are going to have to resemble the top quarterback contracts structurally. There are three quarterbacks — Derek Carr, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford — who have signed five-year extensions averaging at least $25 million per year since 2017. The structures of their deals could be instructive.
The following chart outlines the percentage of new money earned after each of the new contract years in their respective deals.
|Player||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5|
These three extensions are more player-friendly than the Cowboys are accustomed to on five-year deals. Dallas has only done two extremely lucrative five-year deals, with wide receiver Dez Bryant and Lawrence, during the last five years.
Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million contract in 2015 as Dallas’ franchise player. $32 million of the $70 million was fully guaranteed at signing, which included a $20 million signing bonus. The total guarantees were $45 million. Bryant was released in 2018 once the guarantees were over.
The money earned after each year by Bryant and Lawrence, which is in the following chart, falls short of these quarterback deals.
|Player||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5|
Hypothetical $30 million per year offer
The Prescott negotiation revolves around new money, which is the amount of compensation in a contract excluding what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal, and how it gets allocated over the life of the contract. Professionals within the industry (agents and team negotiators) typically value deals by new money. This means a $150 million offer averaging $30 million per year is really a six-year contract totaling $152.025 million. Prescott’s existing 2019 contract year for $2.025 million is subtracted from the $152.025 million six-year total to arrive at a five-year, $150 million extension offer.
Taking into consideration the dynamics that have been highlighted, below is a chart breaking down what a $30 million per offer to Prescott could look like.
- Signing bonus: $35 million
- Guaranteed money: $96 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $73 million
- New money total: $150 million ($152.025 million over six years)
- Contract length: Five-year extension
- Average per year: $30 million
|Year||Base Salary||Bonus Proration||Cap Number||Cash Flow||New Money %|
Notes: 2019-21 guaranteed for skill, injury and salary cap. 2022 guaranteed for injury; skill and salary cap guarantee on fifth day of 2021 league year. $500,000 base salary de-escalator based on 90 percent workout program participation in 2020-24.
Something I did while an agent was try to anticipate a team’s first offer by taking into account the market at my client’s position and his team’s structural conventions. That was the impetus for attempting to put Dallas’ $30 million per offer into context without any specific knowledge of the negotiations.
Teams have been successful in getting players who haven’t made a lot of money by NFL standards to accept deals that aren’t quite what is being sought because the risk of playing out contracts is greater than the reward. Prescott has made a little over $2 million from his player contract during his three NFL seasons. France is clearly driving a hard bargain for Prescott, who has been adamant about not giving Dallas a hometown discount, if a $30 million per year offer along these lines was rejected.
Prescott will be destined for a franchise tag in 2020 if he plays out his rookie contract. An analysis of going year-to-year playing the franchise tag game versus any Dallas offers is likely being made by France. The 2020 non-exclusive quarterback number should be in the neighborhood of $27 million if the salary cap is around $200 million next offseason. A second franchise tag in 2021 at a CBA-mandated 20 percent increase over the 2020 franchise number would be over $32 million.
Quarterbacks usually get the exclusive version, which would be a certainty if Prescott’s increased effectiveness over the second half of the 2018 season after Dallas traded for wide receiver Amari Cooper is a sign of things to come. Prescott ranked in the top 10 over the second half of the season in most conventional statistical categories as the Cowboys tied the Colts at 7-1 for the NFL’s best record during that stretch.
The exclusive version would prohibit Prescott from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams. The calculation is also different from the non-exclusive version. An exclusive designation for Prescott would be the average of the top five 2020 quarterback salaries (usually salary cap numbers) when the restricted free agent signing period ended on April 17. This number currently projects to $32.221 million. A second franchise tag in 2021 at a 20 percent increase over Prescott’s 2020 franchise number would be $38,665,200.