There was a lot of talk about the Dallas Cowboys this month, but little of it was about Dak Prescott. The Cowboys quarterback was, as usual, overshadowed by his running back Ezekiel Elliott, who skipped training camp to work out in Cabo, Mexico, and make it known he wanted a new contract. Elliott eventually got it with a deal that will pay him $50 million over the next four years. That move came after Dallas signed star defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, breakout linebacker Jaylon Smith, and tackle La’el Collins to contract extensions of their own. Meanwhile Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper are both entering the final year of their contracts. Their message to the Jones family in the Cowboys’ 35-17 win over the Giants in Week 1 was unmistakable: Pay us.
Prescott finished Sunday with 25 completions on 32 attempts for 405 yards (12.7 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns with no turnovers or sacks and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The four touchdowns tied a career high and the 405 yards were the second most in his career. It was his second game with more than 300 yards and four touchdowns, the same amount Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers had in their first 50 games, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Prescott looked calm and cunning throughout. His first score was a 28-yard touchdown to tight end Blake Jarwin. The second was a 4-yard toss to former announcer Jason Witten that was set up by two passes to second-year receiver Michael Gallup for a combined 59 yards. On the third, he found Cooper for a beautiful 21-yard touchdown down the left sideline that put the score at 21-7 just before halftime.
Cooper caught Prescott’s last pass of the first half and then his first pass of the second half, this time going for 45 yards. On Prescott’s next throw, he found Randall Cobb for a 25-yard touchdown to put the score at 28-10.
One pass after that, on third-and-8 on the following drive, Prescott tossed a 62-yard pass to Gallup that set up Elliott to score, pushing the game to 35-10 before the fourth quarter had even begun.
Since 2016 the Cowboys have had the best record in the NFC at 33-16, but throughout, there’s been constant debate over whether Prescott was the reason for that success, the player keeping the team from being better, or just a guy along for the ride. Not anymore. Prescott has gone from the passenger in this offense to the driver.
Prescott has long been one of the most underpaid players in football, if not all of sports. In the past three years—the same stretch in which the Cowboys have led the NFC in wins—the team has paid Prescott $2.7 million while paying the rest of the team a combined $485 million. Quarterback is the most important position in the most profitable sports league in the world, and Prescott plays it for the Cowboys, the world’s most valuable sports franchise (valued at $5 billion), yet he has taken up 0.6 percent of their salary cap. It is time for a raise. Jerry Jones has said that the team will sign Prescott to a contract extension.
“Listen, Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones told a Dallas radio station last November. “He’s young, and he’s going to get extended.”
But completing that deal has taken longer than many reporters around the team expected. While the Cowboys wanted to get a deal done over the weekend, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Prescott was taking his time. The money he has earned from endorsement deals combined with the value of an insurance policy in case he gets injured is worth more than $50 million, according to Schefter. With that financial security, Prescott has the luxury of playing a violent game with more assurances than most players ever get while negotiating a new contract, and the further it gets into the season, the more leverage he gains as he gets closer to free agency. Performances like Sunday’s make the $34 million annual price he was reportedly seeking seem low.
Cooper has a similar leverage over the Cowboys. His game line of six catches, 106 yards, and a score is not earth-shattering, but it’s great for someone dealing with plantar fasciitis. His influence on this offense and Prescott is undeniable. The difference in Prescott’s numbers before and after Oakland traded Cooper to Dallas for a first-round pick last year was stunning, with a stat line akin to Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Eli Manning beforehand and numbers like Tom Brady and Baker Mayfield afterward.
Dak Prescott 2018 Stats Before & After the Amari Cooper Trade
|Stat||B.C. (Before Cooper)||A.C. (After Cooper)|
|Stat||B.C. (Before Cooper)||A.C. (After Cooper)|
|Completion %||62.1 (26th)||71.3 (5th)|
|Passing Yards||1,417 (26th)||2,468 (7th)|
|Passing Yards Per Game||202.4 (29th)||274.2 (9th)|
|Passing Touchdowns||8 (t-23rd)||14 (t-12th)|
|Interceptions||4 (t-22nd)||4 (t-20th)|
|Yards Per Attempt||6.9 (27th)||7.7 (14th)|
|Sacks||23 (t-3rd)||33 (3rd)|
|Cowboys Record||3-4 (t-16th)||7-2 (t-3rd)|
Cooper may be looking to get a deal similar to Julio Jones’s massive and precedent-altering contract—$22 million annually over three years, 97 percent of which was guaranteed. Cooper does not have Jones’s amazing track record, but he is five years younger and the key to the team’s offensive revival. His agent, Joel Segal, could reference the above chart and reasonably ask for whatever his client wants.
But the real money will flow for Dak, assuming he and the Cowboys keep playing like this. Yes, the Giants are bad, but great teams dominate bad ones. The Cowboys have surprising skill depth behind Cooper and Elliott with Gallup and Cobb; an excellent offensive line with left tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick; and a defense littered with blue-chip players like linebackers Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Lawrence, and cornerback Byron Jones. This is a Super Bowl contender, and that’s good news for Jerry Jones, who has said he’d rather have another Super Bowl than another $1 billion. But it might be even better news for Prescott, who can command far more than he could have just 24 hours ago. We haven’t been talking about Dak Prescott when we talk about the Dallas Cowboys, but that’s about to change.