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Helman: Stop Trying To Make Dalton About Dak


FRISCO, Texas – Never before have I seen so much uproar about the Cowboys doing something so smart.

That's the territory we've entered into with the quarterback position – specifically, with Dak Prescott and this ongoing contract dispute.

The obvious news, in case you haven't heard: the Cowboys agreed to terms with veteran quarterback Andy Dalton on Saturday, and they signed him Monday. The longtime Cincinnati Bengal joins the Cowboys with 133 career starts, three Pro Bowl bids and five playoff appearances under his belt.

What's more, the Cowboys got him at a pretty great bargain. The reported terms of Dalton's one-year deal are for a total of $7 million, but much of that is based on playing time incentives. If Dalton holds a clipboard for 16 games as Prescott's backup, he'll be due just $3 million.

Essentially, the Cowboys have found themselves one of the most experienced backups in the league for a solid discount. Dalton's base salary is less than at least four other backup quarterbacks. It's a fraction of what the New Orleans Saints just paid to their Swiss Army Knife backup, Taysom Hill.

In fact, Dalton is currently slated to make a smaller salary than the Cowboys' last proven backup quarterback. Kyle Orton signed with the team on a three-year, $11.5 million deal, averaging out at $3.5 million per season – and that deal was signed all the way back in 2012.

It's a good bet Dalton had better offers elsewhere, but it's understandable that he chose the Cowboys as a landing spot. He had an exemplary college career across town in Fort Worth, and he owns a home in the area. Given the current circumstances with COVID-19, it'd also make sense if he didn't want to uproot his family to an unfamiliar destination.

The strategy makes a ton of sense. Take a year to survey your surroundings as a backup in a familiar location, with an eye on future opportunities.

And yes -- to circle back to the uproar – the plan is very much for Dalton to be the backup in 2020. I'm at a loss for why anyone could think otherwise.

To be clear, I'm not knocking Andy Dalton's ability. On an offense this loaded, I think he could be quite successful if he had to start. That's what makes it such a smart signing.

But in what scenario would Dak Prescott not be this team's Day 1 starter? It feels like the frustration of a drawn out contract negotiation has blinded people to the fact that Prescott is 26 years old and coming off a 4,900-yard season that saw him throw 30 touchdowns for the first time in his career. Oh, and the offense around him added even more firepower with the addition of CeeDee Lamb.

There seems to be a sentiment that Dalton is here in the event of a holdout, which is ludicrous.

Let's not confuse this situation with last summer's Ezekiel Elliott holdout. Elliott still had time remaining on his contract and did not report to training camp in an effort to improve his deal.

Officially, Prescott is out of contract. The Cowboys have used the franchise tag on him, but he has yet to sign the one-year, $31 million tender.

The two sides have until July 15 to negotiate an extension. But in the event that an extension isn't reached, there's nothing else that can be done. NFL rules stipulate that negotiations must stop at the deadline. If he doesn't have a new deal by July 15, Prescott will have to play on the tag – or refrain from playing at all, similar to how Le'Veon Bell handled the situation two years ago.

I'm not great at math, but even I can figure out that the $31 million franchise tender equates to about $2 million per game. Considering Prescott's entire salary for the 2019 season was $2 million, I'll believe he's willing to miss those game checks when I see it happen.

To be fair, perhaps signing Dalton gives the Cowboys some negotiating leverage. Perhaps they'll be more willing to stick to their number when they know they have a proven starter waiting in the wings.

If I'm Dak Prescott, though, I'm not sure I'm intimidated. Dalton is 32 and didn't quarterback the Bengals to a winning record in any of the past four seasons. And yes, while it's fair to say Cincinnati's talent level dipped in those years, there's also the matter of an 0-4 playoff record – with one touchdown pass and six interceptions in those losses.

Which, again, it's not my intention to dog Andy Dalton. I just don't think his presence on the roster will do much to change the asking price of Dak Prescott and his representatives.

In light of all that information, I have no choice but to take this signing for what it is: a fantastic insurance policy at an absurd discount. Half the Super Bowl contenders in the NFL, from the Eagles to the Saints to the Chiefs, have proven the value of a good backup quarterback in recent years. The Cowboys might have liked to have Dalton last December when Prescott was fighting through a shoulder injury with the playoffs on the line.

This is an addition to feel happy about, rather than cause an argument. Hopefully I'm not alone in feeling that way.