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Dak Prescott should bet on himself, play out his rookie contract

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Dak Prescott made a mistake, and here's an educated guess: He knows it.

Dak took some heat over the weekend for talking to USA TODAY about his contract status. The criticism stemmed from a rare faux pas for the 25-year-old quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, saying he wasn't going to take a hometown discount like Tom Brady, citing the six-time Super Bowl winner's wife in the process.

"Nobody's wife makes as much money as his wife does," Prescott said in reference to supermodel Gisele Bundchen. "When Tom Brady isn't the breadwinner in the home, then that's a great problem to have.

"So in that case, he can do that. He can do his contract however you want to do it."

Dak Prescott is a fantastic person. Typically, he gets it. So, I will give him a pass on at least three slip-ups in that one quote:

1) Never talk about another player's contract.

2) Never talk about another player's significant other.

3) Never compare yourself to Tom Brady.

You just cannot win on any of the above.

In fact, with Prescott entering the final year of his rookie deal as a fourth-round pick who has out-kicked his contract, here's exactly what I would do:

Nothing.

If I'm Prescott, I would do nothing. I would play out my rookie deal if Dallas were unwilling to pay top dollar. And frankly, there should be some hesitation on the Cowboys' side, based upon the overall body of work and erratic three-year trajectory. But if I'm Prescott, I absolutely bank on 2019 being the best, most dominant, most explosive year of my professional career.

Please understand that I am a Prescott fan. You can most certainly debate the merits of QB wins as a statistic of record, but Dak is 32-16 in three years under center for one of the NFL's marquee franchises. Dak has a knack for rising to the moment and coming through in the fourth quarter. Since Prescott entered the league in 2016, he ranks first in game-winning drives (14) and is tied for fourth in fourth-quarter comebacks (eight).

Prescott is a tough, sensational leader. He's an amazing person who does meaningful charitable work and doesn't seek attention for it.

But is he elite? Is he a star? Is he worthy of today's franchise-quarterback money?

That's up for debate.

In 2016, Dak earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Personally, I registered my AP vote for his teammate, running back Ezekiel Elliott. I was of the opinion then -- and remain of the opinion now -- that Zeke makes Dak, not the other way around. When Elliott was in limbo -- and eventually suspended for six games -- in 2017, Prescott's play decidedly dipped. His completion percentage plummeted (from 67.8 down to 62.9), as did his yards per attempt (8.0 to 6.7) and QB rating (104.9 to 86.6). Meanwhile, the interception total ballooned from four to 13. And the Cowboys went from a 13-3 team with a playoff bye to a 9-7 squad watching the playoffs from home.

That brings us to Prescott's 2018 season, which can be broken down into two distinct periods: Before Amari and After Amari.

For the first seven games of the season, Prescott looked relatively dreadful, completing just 62.1 percent of his passes and barely averaging 200 yards passing (202.4, to be exact). Add in the QB's underwhelming marks in TD-to-INT ratio (8:4) and QB rating (87.4), and it wasn't too surprising that Dallas found itself below .500 at 3-4.

But everything changed when the Cowboys flipped a first-round pick for Amari Cooper. The pair immediately clicked, which rarely happens after a midseason trade.

Prescott, Cooper and the 'Boys went 7-2 down the stretch and won the NFC East. Prescott's completion percentage in these nine games vaulted to 71.3 and his yards per game skyrocketed to 274.2. Same story with his TD-to-INT ratio (14:4) and QB rating (103.0). His overall confidence and fourth-quarter play were noticeably different.

Prescott went from struggling pop-gun starter to must-see TV. It was awesome. It was significant. And it should only get better in 2019, especially since the new offensive coordinator (Kellen Moore) was promoted from within, mitigating potential growing pains on that front.

With this three-year roller-coaster ride in mind, though, Dak's a fascinating conundrum on the pay scale. He plays the most important position in team sports. He plays it well, having made a pair of Pro Bowls. Still, you could argue half of the league's starting quarterbacks played it better over the entirely of the 2018 campaign. You could argue Prescott is the third reason why Dallas wins, trailing the outstanding defense and the running attack. And given the number of teams this decade that have enjoyed success with a QB on a rookie contract -- something that allows for more balanced spending across the roster -- it would be easy to understand if the Cowboys' Powers That Be were a bit apprehensive on giving Dak a new deal that averaged well north of $20 million per season, despite what the Joneses have said publicly.

I spoke to Prescott on radio row in Atlanta during Super Bowl week. When I asked about contract talks with Dallas, he said, "I'll let those conversations take care of themselves. I will let my agent do his job. It's for my agent to handle. It's for the Cowboys to handle. It's out of my hands. I only worry about things I can control."

I gave him my suggestion: to wait, to have his best season, live his best life and then cash in after banking on himself. I also asked him if there's a time frame with the talks.

"This is my first time obviously going through something like this," Prescott said. "I will listen to the advice of my agent. I'm doing as he says with the right way and the right approach. Time frame? I don't know. A lot of quarterbacks historically get it done later in the offseason. Who knows when it will be done -- or if at all, as you mention."

I love Dak as a person and leader. I'm conflicted on Dak as a player, especially when it comes to considering the possibility of a nine-figure contract. He's definitely good and has accomplished a lot in three NFL seasons.

All that said, I don't think he's remotely gotten started yet. 2019 will be his best year to date. Take it to the bank, Dak. Literally.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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