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Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: High Cost Of Dealing With Quarterbacks


FRISCO, Texas – And you wonder why the Cowboys have been so meticulous and understandably stubborn during these negotiations with Dak Prescott and his people on a long-term contract.

For the third consecutive year keep hearing and reading, why don't the Cowboys just sign Dak? Why don't they give the man his money? Don't they value his talent? Are they not convinced he deserves to make top-5 quarterback denaro?

The answers, in order, are:

They want to sign him.

They have offered him the money.

They do value his talent.

They are convinced he deserves to be paid like a franchise QB.

But here is why they have stuck to their guns during these negotiations that are now in process … again.

See Deshaun Watson.

See Ben Roethlisberger.

See Jared Goff.

See Carson Wentz.

See Matthew Stafford.

See Aaron Rodgers.

These are delicate quarterback times throughout the National Football League, the reason being this is a quarterback-driven game. This is a quarterback driven league, next Sunday's Super Bowl LV the prime example. Can't be wrong on these guys. Can't just back up the Brinks truck indiscriminately.

Otherwise, the salary cap will strangle you into submission.

We like to talk about the Cowboys great line of quarterback succession during their 61-year history. From Don Meredith to Craig Morton to Roger Staubach to Danny White to Troy Aikman to Tony Romo and now to Dak Prescott.

What we choose to ignore are those horrible interruptions, those two and a half seasons after White suffered that career-altering wrist injury during the ninth game of 1986; like the five and a half seasons following the parting of ways with Aikman after the 2000 season. But that's it.

And the Cowboys have been incredibly lucky that one quarterback after another just fell into their laps. Like the fabricated trade for Meredith in 1959, returning a future third-round pick to the Bears to prevent the SMU quarterback from choosing the AFL's upstart Dallas Texans instead.

Like teams selecting two running backs, a fullback and a linebacker during the 1965 NFL Draft, leaving Morton for the Cowboys at No. 5. Like taking a flyer in the 10th round of 1964 on the Heisman Trophy-winning Staubach, who was on his way to the Navy for four years, including a tour in Vietnam. Like taking a future's chance in the third round on White, who already had signed with Memphis of the WFL. Like landing the first pick in the 1989 draft after the 2-12 Packers won their final two games while the 2-12 Cowboys would only win one more.

Like cutting fourth-year starting quarterback Quincy Carter a week into the 2004 training camp, giving them room to keep 2003 free agent QB Tony Romo on board as the third guy. And, of course, like 2016 fourth-round draft choice Dak Prescott, barely considered the third quarterback at the start of training camp, quickly out of necessity inheriting the starting job he's never given up thanks to camp injuries to backup Kellen Moore and Romo before the start of that season.

But now this, after the Cowboys offering Prescott this past summer a five-year deal averaging right at $34.5 million a year that included $110 million guaranteed, of which $54 million was signing bonus, but was deemed not good enough, stalemating negotiations on a long-term deal.

All adding to the fickle state of the NFL's quarterback world.

Watson, with one year left on his initial four-year contract with Houston and the Texans picking up his fifth-year option for 2021, signing the first-round draft choice to a four-year, $156 million extension this past September, meaning he was scheduled to make $179.5 million over six years – an average of $29.9 million a year.

But now, not even a year later, even after the Texans having picked up his fifth-year option at a guaranteed $10.54 million and signing him to that gracious extension, the disgruntled Watson wants out, reportedly asking the Texans to be traded.

Here, though, is the problem rarely provided.

There is a salary cap governing his $110.7 million guarantee. The Texans can't just cut him. That would cost them $67.4 million in dead money.

Trade him before June 1? Well, that costs $21.6 million in dead money. And whoever might trade for him, without a restructure, would inherit his already guaranteed $35 million base salary for 2022.

Dilemma, right?

Take Pittsburgh and the veteran Roethlisberger. Because of a guaranteed base salary, prorated signing bonus, restructure bonus and roster bonus, his 2021 cap hit is an unmanageable $44.3 million. Cut him before June 1? Trade him before June 1? That's $22.5 million in dead money either way in the final year of a contract yearning for restructure.

There has been all this talk of Green Bay possibly unloading Rodgers. The unspoken truth with three years left on his deal is doing either results in $31.5 million in dead money this season, and on top of that, the way his contract is structured, his base salaries in 2022-23 are each an inheritable $25 million.

Let's go one more since sounds as if Philadelphia, with a new head coach, has its hands full with Wentz, who signed a four-year, $128 million extension in 2019. That gives him essentially six years at $156.8 million, averaging $26.1 million a year.

Well, sounds as if the Eagles aren't sure if Wentz is still their guy, possibly turning over the keys to the organization to second-year QB Jalen Hurts, who started the final four games of his rookie season. Say there is open competition for 2021. Say Hurts wins. Think the Eagles can handle Wentz's $36.4 million cap hit for a backup?

And they sure as hell can't handle cutting him before June 1, turning $59.2 million into dead money, nor the $33.8 million in dead money if he's traded before June 1.

See what I mean? Teams can't just cavalierly sign these quarterbacks to whatever they might be demanding. These are delicate, highly intricate financial transactions. Divorce becomes expensive, further complicated this upcoming season by 2020 COVID-19 precautions greatly reducing NFL revenue, thus causing a salary cap reduction this coming season. This will be only the second time that has occurred since the cap was instituted in 1994. The first came in the 2011 lockout season and greatly affected team salary caps since base salaries already constructed assume yearly salary cap increases.

Now, you should better understand why the Cowboys wanted to – need to – sign Dak to a five-year deal. That would spread, say, the $54 million signing bonus over five years, prorating out to $10.8 million a year. That also would allow a much-needed lower base salary for 2021 and push back the untenable ones to like 2024-25 when, and they hope, the cap resumes its yearly rise.

A long-term deal also prevents having to franchise Dak again, this time at $37.7 million to retain his rights for one more year. That also benefits Dak, putting money in the bank the next day, especially after what could have been a catastrophic chancy decision this past season had his injury been career-threatening without any contract security, choosing to play on that one-year deal.

Does he really want to gamble on another one-year deal?

Do the Cowboys really want to incur such a huge cap hit?

You'd think not on both sides.

So, do not wonder why there has been this long, drawn-out contract affair going on between the Cowboys and Dak's people.

Go ask the Texans what they now think of their Watson extension.

Go ask the Eagles about that Wentz extension.

Hey, go ask Detroit, seemingly intent on parting ways with Stafford, cut or traded before June 1 going to cost the Lions $19 million in dead money either way.

These are not GameStop shenanigans here.

Sort of reminds me of Dallas Stars analyst Daryl Reaugh when coaching our highly-novice hockey team during a charity event, explaining to us the value of not turning over the puck, as if we were good enough to prevent that, using one of his little mind-bromides he'd spread around the locker room.

"Turnovers are like divorces," he'd implore, "the more you have, the more costly they become."

Same with quarterback deals gone sour.

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