The Cowboys for months have made clear they want to keep Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback, and they were willing to use a franchise tag on the 26-year-old in the absence of a long-term deal.
On Monday, Dallas made it official. Because the team and the player could not agree on terms for a long-term contract extension before the start of the legal tampering period for soon-to-be free agents, the Cowboys placed an exclusive franchise tag on Prescott.
The fact that Dallas used an exclusive tag, rather than the more commonly used non-exclusive tag, is notable. Now, no other team can negotiate with Prescott and force the Cowboys to match a contract offer. Only Dallas can work with the quarterback, and the team has until July 15 to work out a deal before Prescott plays out the 2020 season on the tag.
Below is all you need to know about the franchise tag the Cowboys placed on Prescott, and how it impacts his contract situation moving forward:
Why did the Cowboys franchise tag Dak Prescott?
To put it simply: because Dallas ran out of time to sign Prescott to a long-term contract extension before free agency.
The Cowboys didn't want to let their quarterback hit the open market, so they had two options before the legal tampering period began Monday at noon ET. Either sign Prescott to a new deal, or tag him.
List of #Cowboys tagged per @NFLResearch :
2020 QB Dak Prescott
2019 DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2018 DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2015 WR Dez Bryant
2013 LB Anthony Spencer
2012 LB Anthony Spencer
2008 S Ken Hamlin
2002 T Flozell Adams
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) March 16, 2020
Prescott has leverage in this situation, which he gained after reportedly turning down a Cowboys contract offer worth $33 million per year and proceeding to play the entire 2019 season at a high level without getting injured. Now — given the financial benefits of the franchise tag for a quarterback unfazed by the lack of a long-term deal and the potential of a market-altering contract for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — Prescott has no reason to settle for a deal before the tag deadline.
He knows he deserves to be compensated as well as, if not better than, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the league's highest-paid player at $35 million per year.
What is a franchise tag in the NFL?
Beginning Feb. 27 and ending at noon ET on Monday was the period in which NFL teams could place franchise or transition tags on players who were set to become free agents in 2020. The meaning of the franchise tag (and the transition tag) is just that: It's a mechanism teams are allowed to use to keep "franchise" designated players off the unrestricted or restricted free-agency markets.
Because the franchise tag is a tool used by teams to lock players into one-year deals, players generally don't like being tagged. The positive for the players who are tagged is that the one-year deals are guaranteed, and that the salaries represent the average of the top five highest-paid players at their positions (if not more).
The player's guaranteed salary for that one season is attractive, but such a tag provides the player no long-term security.
A franchise tag, of course, still leaves room for negotiation on a long-term contract. The NFL's deadline in 2020 for teams and tagged players to agree upon and sign a multi-year extension is July 15.
Will Dak Prescott sign a long-term contract extension with the Cowboys?
Almost certainly. But the longer the Cowboys take to agree to terms on an extension for Prescott, the more expensive the deal will be.
The deadline for Prescott and the Cowboys to agree on a contract extension before he must play out the 2020 season on the tag is July 15. Only two NFL quarterbacks have played out seasons on a tag: Kirk Cousins in 2016 and 2017, and Drew Brees in 2005.
Prescott's camp reportedly has turned down at least one offer that would have paid him $33 million per season. He likely is aiming to become the NFL's highest-paid quarterback. In terms of average annual salary, the bar is Russell Wilson's $35 million per year. In terms of fully guaranteed money, the top of the chart is Matt Ryan's $94.5 million.
The Cowboys would be wise to lock Prescott into a long-term deal before the Chiefs do the same with Patrick Mahomes. Some anticipate Mahomes getting a deal worth more than $40 million per year, and though Dallas won't need to pay Prescott more than that, Kansas City's move could reset the bar.
What is Dak Prescott's salary under the franchise tag?
The Cowboys used the exclusive tag on Prescott, which is a little more expensive than the non-exclusive tag. According to Spotrac, Prescott on the exclusive tag in 2020 will cost the Cowboys $31.5 million.
If Dak Prescott plays on the tag, he'll make more than six times as much in 2020 than he's made in his entire career.
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) March 16, 2020
Only Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (2017), Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (2017), Broncos linebacker Von Miller (2016) and Saints quarterback Drew Brees (2012) have received the exclusive tag since 2012. The salary is calculated in a way similar to the formula for players issued non-exclusive tags, but rather than an average of the top five salaries at the player's position over the last five years, the exclusive tag is worth the average of the top five salaries at his position in the current year.
Unlike those who get the non-exclusive tag, an exclusive tagged player can't negotiate with other teams.
Players can be tagged in consecutive years, but the team must pay the player more each year he is tagged. For a player to be franchise-tagged two straight years, the team must pay 120 percent of the player's previous salary. If it's three straight years, the team must pay the player 144 percent of his previous salary.