FRISCO, Texas – Well, there's one week down in the Dak Franchise Watch, now to be known as DFW.
And one week to go on the DFW, either the Cowboys sign Dak Prescott to a long-term deal or they will plop down the exclusive franchise tag on him by 3 p.m. next Tuesday, March 9.
But that's more of a placeholder than any sort of a hard deadline. To me, the hard deadlines are these:
March 17: The start of the new league year, meaning that is when the 2021 salary cap commences, likely somewhere between $180-$185 million. That then is when the $37.7 million franchise tag would charge the Cowboys cap if a long-term deal is not consummated by then, certainly fracturing their ability to operate in free agency, even with their own guys.
April 29: The start of the NFL Draft, because if a long-term deal is not done by then, would the Cowboys then assume owning the rights to Dak for just one more season and start planning for the future? Especially with so many projecting as many as five quarterbacks being selected in the top 10 of the draft.
July 15: The absolute hardest deadline of all, either Dak is signed to a long-term deal by then, or they forever hold any further negotiations until the end of the season, if either side even cares to.
Thus, the business of the NFL.
Some would say, well, Ad-in Dak, that he has all the leverage with not only the expense of the 2021 tag hanging over the Cowboys' head, but a nearly prohibitive 2022 tag, too, worth $54.4 million.
But then, some would say, Ad-out Dak, because does he really want to risk not suffering another horrible injury without long-term security while possibly heading into the free-agent market in 2022 somewhat incapacitated?
Go ask his agent Todd France's other client who chose to play the 2020 season on the franchise tag, Pittsburgh defensive end Bud Dupree, who tore his ACL on Dec. 2, now facing the normal 7-to-9 month rehab when he could have signed a long-term deal with guaranteed money. Who now knows if the Steelers want him back, and if they do, at what investment? Or what value might Dupree have with the open market debating his worth, knowing he's damaged goods until at least the start of training camp?
In the infamous words of Bill Parcells, there're two sides to playing that franchise pancake.
- Cap Cow: If Dak plays on the franchise tag, and assuming the salary cap at worst falling to an $180 million floor, his $37.7 million would consume 20.9 percent of the Cowboys cap. And to simply fund that and the draft, and absorbing like $9 million in dead money, the Cowboys would be hard pressed to improve the team much in free agency. Even by restructuring contracts for guys such as Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin, they would be reduced to bottom feeders in free agency. My guess is a long-term deal would reduce the exorbitant cap hit by $20 million. And if signed to less than a five-year deal, probably to make cap sense would have to add voidable years so the signing bonus can still be spread out over five years.
- What's Next: NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith during an online podcast with Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter said from the looks of things, and even if some states are acting as if the COVID is disappearing despite deaths rising to 500,00, he expects the NFL to continue with daily testing for the coming season. Smith and NFLPA player president JC Tretter also expect the NFL owners to approve a 17-game season, pointing out the owners "bought the right" to make that decision without union approval in exchange for an increase in minimum salaries and other financial considerations in the new CBA.
- So-Fine: The season-old SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., is becoming a vaccination site for an estimated 85,000 Los Angeles United School District teachers and school staff members, a huge move to re-open classrooms in the city. A mass vaccination site is expected to open in Arlington, too, at AT&T Stadium and at NRG in Houston.
- Cross Checking: For so many years enjoyed Irv Cross joining Brent Musburger and Phyliss George on CBS' NFL Today pregame show. But what I didn't remember about Cross, who passed away Feb. 28 at age 81 of heart disease, was that he not only had a nine-year NFL career with the Eagles (8) and the Lions (1) after becoming a seventh-round pick of Philadelphia in 1961, but that he also starred at Northwestern, entering college in 1957. Cross grew up in Hammond, Ind., where I spent my summers in college working at a steel door factory. Cross also had been suffering from dementia, and had made arrangements to donate his brain to Boston University for CTE examination.
- Seeing Is Believing: And count me in on once hearing that Cowboys former defensive end DeMarcus Ware jumped 66 inches high onto a stacked pile of pads. Saw the video on Twitter. See, Ware heard Myles Garrett did a standing-still jump up on pads stacked 64 inches high. Well, at 38, Ware figured he should be granted a running start, and with a one-two-three-four-plant-and two-footed leap, the physical freak soars straight up with knees bent 66 inches onto these stacked pads. Unreal. Oh, and let me convert for you, that's 6 and a half feet … high.
- Lower Shots: Wonder if the New Orleans Saints were thrilled to see their four-time Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara posting video of learning to snowboard up in Big Sky. He actually was doing pretty good for a beginner on the post, until, uh, going down. And as I've pointed out to those learning to ski, you also need to learn how to fall, too … Despite a 6-10 record in 2020, the Cowboys over the past five seasons own a 20-10 record against NFC East opponents, ranking fifth for division records over that period in the NFL, one behind the Saints, two behind Pittsburgh and three behind the Patriots, all trailing the 26-4 Chiefs … We knew Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb broke the franchise record for most catches by a rookie with 74. But come on, he broke Bob Hayes' record that's stood for 55 years (1965) by 28 catches. But can you imagine of Hayes' 46 catches, 12 went for touchdowns – that's nearly a TD every four catches. Can't touch that.
And once again, I'll take the last word. One of our mailbag questions this week on Dallascowboys.com centered on if the Cowboys should trade Michael Gallup since he's entering the final year of his contract and considering Lamb's impact. The guys did a nice job of answering, but let me add this in defense of keeping him on a team that needs offense to win: What happens if either Amari Cooper or Lamb goes down with an injury. Then what? Who's next up? Sobering, thought, no?