Is Dak Prescott What the Cowboys Need to Win a Super Bowl?by Mike Fanelli October 23, 2020 0 comments
Entering the 2020 season, the Dallas Cowboys had Super Bowl expectations. However, the team got off to a 1-3 start and only got their one win after the Atlanta Falcons forgot how the onside kick rules work. Then in their Week 5 matchup against the New York Giants, Dak Prescott suffered a compound right ankle fracture. His season was over in an instant, and the Cowboys’ playoff hopes all but died at that moment.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, the NFC East is the worst division in football as they have only two wins outside of the division. Because of that, should the Cowboys make a push for the playoffs even though it likely means a first-round exit, or should they take the opposite approach and prepare for next season? The correct answer is to prepare for next season, but not in the way you think. Let’s dive into it.
The Current Situation
Currently, the Cowboys are only a half-game out of first place. They have plenty of weapons on offense with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Ezekiel Elliott to make up for Andy Dalton‘s poor play. However, their defense is giving up points at a historic rate. Meanwhile, their offensive line has lost both starting tackles for the season after losing Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick in the offseason to a surprising retirement.
Thanks to being in the NFC East, the Cowboys are still favored to make the playoffs and win the division. However, no matter what team gets the top Wild Card seed, the Cowboys will likely be a touchdown underdog entering the game, and rightfully so. With Jerry Jones owning and running the team, the Cowboys won’t accept that the season is over and instead try to make a playoff push. However, let’s assume the Cowboys realize their season is over. What do they do next?
While tanking is against NFL rules and throwing games is illegal, the Cowboys could do legal things to help them lose games. They can give the younger players more playing time, which would lead to more mistakes but also give them experience. The Cowboys can also limit the number of snaps their veterans play. Not only does this protect them from injuries but limit the number of worthless miles on their bodies. They could also trade off some veteran players who likely won’t be back next season for draft picks.
With their legal tanking, the Cowboys would likely end up with a top-five selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. While that is great, the question is, should the Cowboys draft Dak’s replacement or build around him?
Should the Cowboys Pay Dak Now?
To build around Dak, the Cowboys would have to re-sign him first. He played this season on the one-year franchise tag worth about $31.4 million. Currently, the franchise tag for next season projects to be about $38 million for quarterbacks. Meanwhile, according to Sportrac, the salary cap is projected to drop to $175 million next season, while the Cowboys have roughly $27 million in projected cap space.
If the Cowboys want to place the franchise tag on Dak again in 2021, they will need to open up cap space. Aside from saving $4 million by releasing veteran Dontari Poe, the Cowboys don’t have a lot of ways to create cap space. If they can come to a long term deal, they can adjust the contract in a way to have a much lower cap hit in 2021. However, if the Cowboys weren’t ready to give Dak a long-term deal last offseason, are they prepared to offer him the deal he wants coming off this gruesome injury? Probably not. This means the only way Dak is a Cowboy in 2021 is by playing on the franchise tag.
Tank for Trevor?
Assuming the Cowboys end up with a top-five draft pick, there will be a debate about whether the Cowboys should draft Dak’s replacement or add a blue chip prospect to go around him. Everyone is in love with Trevor Lawrence, and understandably so. However, the Cowboys aren’t likely to lose more games than the Jacksonville Jaguars or the New York Jets. This means, at best, they are picking third overall with two teams ahead of them likely taking a quarterback.
The good news for the Cowboys is there are three blue chip quarterbacks in this draft class. To go along with Lawrence is Justin Fields from Ohio State and Trey Lance from North Dakota State. The Cowboys will need to do plenty of homework on all three quarterbacks but, if they determine all three are franchise quarterbacks, they should select one. The reason why? The money; it’s always about the money.
With the rookie pay scale, the Cowboys would save over $140 million in cap space over the next five years by drafting a rookie instead of paying Dak $40 million or more a season. With all that extra cap space, the Cowboys could add more pieces around the rookie quarterback or go after some secondary help in free agency.
What to do with the Cap Space?
The defense has been awful this season, especially at safety, where Xavier Woods will be a free agent after this season while Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson have struggled. According to Over the Cap, there are several talented safeties set to be free agents after this season. The list includes Justin Simmons, Anthony Harris, Keanu Neal, and Marcus Williams. With the cap space the Cowboys saved by not franchise tagging Prescott, they could add at least one of these safeties. Depending on how they lay out the contracts, the Cowboys could sign two safeties and still have enough space left to add depth at linebacker and along the offensive line. Adding these players to an already good and young roster on paper would give the Cowboys arguably the best roster in the league.
As great as it would be to add a young exciting rookie quarterback, a starting safety, and depth at critical positions, losing Dak for nothing would be a tough pill to swallow. The good news is, the Cowboys don’t have to lose Dak for nothing.
In 2018, the then Washington Redskins let franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins leave in free agency after playing two seasons on the franchise tag. In the end, they received the top compensatory pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The selection was the 96th overall pick, which they trade for a package of Bryce Love and Wes Martin. Needless to say, they didn’t get any meaningful value back for their franchise quarterback. However, the Cowboys can learn from Washington’s mistake and instead tag and trade Dak to a team willing to sign him long term.
What Happens to Dak?
Given the tricky nature of trading a player on the franchise tag, this process may take time to work out. However, there is one team that has a young, talented Super Bowl built team but has an aging quarterback who has struggled this season. That team is the Indianapolis Colts. According to Over the Cap, the Colts will have roughly $70 million in cap space next season as both Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are set to be free agents after this season. The Colts have a young offensive line in place, a couple of young wide receivers, and a great defense filled with young stars. However, the reason they aren’t Super Bowl contenders this season is that they ruined Andrew Luck‘s career, but that’s an article for another day.
The Colts are not shy when it comes to making trades involving their first-round pick. In each of the last three drafts, the Colts have traded their first-round pick. In two of those drafts, they didn’t end up making a pick in the first round. For the Colts, trading at least two first-round picks for a franchise quarterback is a move they would make as Super Bowl contenders. In the past, we’ve seen trades where teams pay much more for an unknown rookie quarterback. For example, in 2012, Washington traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up four spots to select Robert Griffin.
Instead of getting the unknown in a rookie quarterback, the Colts would be getting a two time Pro Bowler and a proven franchise quarterback. Now, the Colts and Dak would have to work out some sort of long term deal before a trade happens, but given their cap situation, the Colts could meet Dak’s asking price. For the Cowboys, now they have at least two extra first-round picks to build around their rookie quarterback.
With the extra cap space, the Cowboys could add a veteran safety and build up their depth at two spots they been hard at with injuries this season. With the extra draft picks, the Cowboys could draft Tyron Smith‘s successor at left tackle this year and have an extra first next year to use in a trade or add another starter next season. Now before you think, “this guy is a draft nerd or general manager wannabe”, Jones and the Cowboys have a history of pulling off a blockbuster trade.
In 1989, the Cowboys pulled off the largest trade in NFL history. They sent star running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in a three-team. That trade netted the Cowboys four players and eight draft picks, including three first-rounders. Could the Cowboys pull off a similar move this offseason? Don’t put anything past Mr. Jones.
So to conclude: is Dak what the Cowboys need to win a Super Bowl? The answer is yes, but not as part of the team. Much like when they traded away Walker, the Cowboys had added several younger and cheaper players to their team. By selecting the right places and making the right moves, the Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls from 1993 to 1996. If the Cowboys can pick the right rookie quarterback, the right players to put around him, and get a little lucky, trading away Dak could open up the door for another Super Bowl title.
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