With an estimated worth of $5 billion, the Dallas Cowboys can tip as well as any team in professional sports. They have a state-of-the-art stadium, an extravagant owner and a world-wide fan base that fuels the perception that the franchise is the Amazon of the NFL.
The Cowboys also have a sense of fair play when it comes to their football team, the desire to equitably compensate their players. But the ticklish debate about what’s fair is currently complicating things midway through training camp.
The three stalwarts of the Cowboys offense, running back Ezekiel Elliott, quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper, all want their contracts extended. And doing so would be a costly proposition for the organization trying to keep its bottom line in balance.
So Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been taking his time dealing with this three-pronged problem.
Although its rather convoluted, here’s how Jones explained his dilemma to reporters earlier this week:
“Picture if you were the driver of a car, and you had a wreck and your hand was almost severed off, but you didn’t understand your anatomy. You look down, you’re spurting blood, you open the door and run to the woods and either die of bleeding to death or shock. The educated man looks down, knows his anatomy, squeezes and knows his best chance is to wait for help. That’s because he’s been there a lot and done that. And so I’m squeezing and waiting for help. That’s my lesson for today.”
Jones has been negotiating these types of contracts since he bought the Cowboys in 1989. What he’s learned is the process usually begins with bluster, but always seems to end by doing what makes sense.
Prescott and Cooper have deals that expire after this season. Elliott’s comes due after the 2020 season. While Prescott and Cooper have decided to report to training camp, Elliott has been camping out in Cabo San Lucas, doing what the petulant do when something doesn’t go their way.
Things have begun to get bizarre. The NFL Network reported on Monday that Prescott, at best an above-average player, had turned down Jones’ offer of $30 million per year in hopes he can get $40 million.
“You don’t have any way of knowing where you are financially until a financial deal is done,” said Jones. “And so you have no idea. It takes two, and both of us haven’t said yes at the same time.”
If the Cowboys were to agree to craft a deal for Prescott that averages $40 million, it would make him the highest paid QB in the league. He’d be making $5 million more than the current king of cash, Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Is Dak Prescott worth more money than Wilson, Tom Brady, Pat Mahomes, Drew Brees or Philip Rivers? You know the answer to that one. But it seems likely that even Prescott knows he’s not worth $40 million. His request? The art of negotiation.
And here’s the thing: While most of the attention has been focused on The Big Three, the Cowboys are also trying to find common ground on new deals with other important cast members, like standout cornerback Byron Jones and linebacker Jaylon Smith.
“It’s not like me going out here and buying something that I have to decide whether I want to just spend to have that,” Jones said. “That’s not it at all. It’s that I’ve got to realize that I can let a DeMarcus Ware out of here because I don’t have enough money because I paid it to too many others.
“That’s happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen again. And we’ve got some top talent here. … Would it be better if we can get one of the players done (before the season) than to not have any done of the ones you’re talking about? The answer is yes,” Jones said. “What may surprise you is we may come up with one that you haven’t been asking about.”
The truth of the matter is, Prescott and Elliott really haven’t led the Cowboys to any great heights. Since Prescott became the starting QB in 2016, the Cowboys are 32-16 with two playoff appearances, two NFC East titles and one just one playoff victory.
Dallas has already extended offers to Elliott, Cooper and Prescott which would place each in the top five at their positions. Meanwhile, Elliott is being fined for every day he holds out and his bill is now in excess of $750,000.
When Jones finally secures deals for Elliott, Prescott and Cooper, its expected they would cost more than $200 million in guarantees and $70 million in cap space for a team The Athletic tells us budgeted $188 million for its entire 53-man roster. Remember, in April, the Cowboys extended defensive DeMarcus Lawrence five years for $105 million with $65 million guaranteed.
What this makes clear is there wouldn’t be a lot of money left over for the remainder of the team and we haven’t even mentioned its sterling offensive line.
“The issue is – and the only bit of leverage is – can it go into the regular season?” said Jones. “And that’s where you start paying a price if you’re a team, but the player pays a price in doing that, too. So all of that is, as I’ve said and tried to point out, when you’ve been in this and done it as often and as many times as I have, then it doesn’t startle you. It doesn’t alarm.”