FRISCO, Texas – It's officially a "Prove It" season for Dak Prescott.
The NFL's franchise tag deadline came and went on Wednesday afternoon, and the Dallas Cowboys did not agree to a long-term contract with their star quarterback. Per NFL rules, that means negotiations between the club and Prescott must be put on hold until following the 2020 season.
Of course, at this moment it's hard to say what the 2020 NFL season is going to look like. Training camp is slated to open in just two weeks, though details about how the league will conduct its season against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic are still forthcoming.
However the season takes shape, Prescott is officially locked into his franchise tag. The four-year veteran signed the tag two weeks ago, assuring himself a one-year contract worth $31.4 million. The tag makes Prescott the highest-paid player on the Cowboys' roster – and the highest-paid player in team history – at least through the 2020 campaign.
This is a rare instance – in recent years, at least -- where the Cowboys haven't been able to agree to terms with a cornerstone player. Traditionally, they've made it a habit of sneaking in deals just under the deadline.
In 2019, they agreed to a multi-year, $105 million deal with DeMarcus Lawrence just in time for the Pro Bowl pass rusher to have a crucial offseason surgery in time to return for the regular season. After a six-week holdout, they also signed Ezekiel Elliott to his $90 million extension just four days before the season opener.
Famously, they signed Dez Bryant to a five-year, $70 million contract back in 2015 – mere hours before the franchise tag deadline.
Prescott is just the sixth Cowboys player to be tagged during the brief history of the franchise tag's use in the NFL. He joins Flozell Adams, Ken Hamlin, Anthony Spencer, Bryant and Lawrence.
Consequently, Prescott is the fourth player in team history who will actually play on the tag. Adams played one season on the tag before receiving a long-term extension. Lawrence played on the tag in 2018 and was tagged again in 2019 before ultimately getting his extension. Bryant and Hamlin never actually played on the tag before signing extensions, while Spencer is the only player in franchise history to sign two franchise tags.
Prescott will no doubt be hoping to follow Lawrence's path to a payday. After a somewhat quiet start to his career, Lawrence broke out for 14.5 sacks during the final year of his rookie deal, and he signed the franchise tag with very little fanfare the next year. He followed that up with 10.5 sacks in 2018, ultimately coercing the Cowboys into offering him a five-year extension.
Despite a mediocre team record, Prescott enjoyed a career year in 2019. He set career highs across the board, finishing the season with 4,902 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. The Cowboys led the league in total offense, which made their 8-8 record all the more frustrating.
It seems unlikely Prescott will be able to top the 10-year, $450 million extension that Patrick Mahomes signed last week, regardless of what he achieves in 2020. But he is certainly seeking a contract that will place him among the highest-paid players in the league.
Given that Russell Wilson is currently second in the league in average salary, at roughly $35 million per season, and tagging Prescott would cost the Cowboys roughly $37 million in 2021, there's a clear road map for where this could be headed.
For now, it's on Prescott to prove he's worth the larger investment when play eventually resumes.