FRISCO, Texas – It's my job to write about the Dallas Cowboys, so I guess it shouldn't be surprising. But it wasn't hard to find the parallels as the clock ticked down in another classic Super Bowl on Sunday night.
Ah, the Super Bowl. The game the Cowboys helped turn into a global icon, appearing in it eight times and winning it five. And given that they've been unsuccessfully trying to reach it again for a quarter of a century, it's hardly a surprise that it's become a bit of a testy topic among the fans and media that follow this team.
Super Bowl LIV felt specifically designed to add to that testiness. With Tom Brady taking the night off for the first time in four years, the sport's biggest game featured two new, young quarterbacks – both of whom can be compared much more easily to Dak Prescott.
On one sideline, there was Jimmy Garoppolo. The San Francisco 49ers made him the highest-paid player in NFL history just two years ago, off the strength of six games as their starter. Despite a $27 million salary, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan managed to build a Super Bowl roster around him with high draft picks and smart free agent investments.
Across the field was Patrick Mahomes – the new gold standard for what an NFL quarterback is capable of. The particulars are absolutely insane, as you well know. Two seasons as a starter, four playoff wins, one Super Bowl championship, one Super Bowl MVP, 89 career touchdown passes. And if that wasn't enough, he did it all on a rookie contract, allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to surround him with high-priced talents like Frank Clark, Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu and Travis Kelce.
That likely won't be the case much longer. Having finished his third NFL season, Mahomes is eligible for an extension, and the Chiefs have made it clear that will be an offseason priority. It's a good bet the guy is going to become the first player to hit a $40 million salary in league history.
Nestled in the middle of it all is Dak Prescott, who is awaiting a pay day of his own.
Like most Cowboys quarterbacks, Dak has become polarizing as his career has advanced. Through four NFL seasons, he is certainly not on the same unicorn-type level as Mahomes.
He's also got a comparable resume to Garoppolo – arguably a better one. And Garoppolo is one of just a long list of similar quarterbacks who has already been paid at the top of the market.
So where does that leave us? To this point in his career, Prescott has not displayed an ability to carry his team on the same level as Mahomes. But he does stack up favorably with a long list of guys who have taken teams to the playoffs and earned a boatload of money in the process.
In a world where Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Garoppolo and Jared Goff have all been paid at or near the top of the market, it's hard to argue Dak isn't deserving.
I can hear the angry arguments from here. Paying a quarterback eats up a ton of the salary cap, and it's money that NFL teams need if they're going to compete without a Mahomes-level talent. Garoppolo guided a loaded 49ers roster to the brink of a championship, but he couldn't quite bring it home – and his salary will be a challenge for San Francisco to deal with in coming years.
At the same time, the alternative is fairly intimidating. In the pursuit of their own Mahomes, could the Cowboys go through with moving on from a quality starting quarterback? Could they franchise tag Prescott in the hopes of trading up for a transcendent player – similar to what Kansas City did just three years ago? Could they seek to acquire a veteran quarterback to bridge the gap, knowing full well that an incoming veteran would bring much of the same uncertainty?
All of that seems unlikely, though it's fun to speculate. The more plausible reality is that Prescott will slot into the existing structure of quarterback contracts, somewhere just outside the top of the market. It will be a big number, but the rising salary cap will make it tolerable in time. After all, Garoppolo was the league's highest-paid quarterback just two years ago. Today, his salary sits ninth in the pecking order.
Mahomes could change that, though. Could a unicorn contract for a unicorn player drastically alter the going rate for a quarterback? And how would the Cowboys respond to such a spike?
It's all hard to say until things start happening. But Sunday's game showed what's possible with the best quarterback in the NFL. It also served as a reminder of how teams can build around a hefty quarterback contract.
For the Cowboys, the blueprint for success is in there somewhere. It's just about which path they'd prefer to take.