Here was the biggest mistake the Dallas Cowboys made in how they handled Dak Prescott's contract negotiations: They let everyone get a look at the Cowboys without Prescott under center and the view was ugly.
As a result, Prescott's gruesome leg injury -- suffered in the Cowboys' fifth game of the 2020 season, sending the team into a frequently unsightly carousel of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert -- accomplished the remarkable, increasing Prescott's leverage and assuring that the Cowboys' slow-playing of their embrace of their franchise quarterback would cost them dearly.
On Monday night, we found out just how dearly.
The four-year deal is worth $160 million, including a staggering $126 million guaranteed. The $40 million annual average salary makes Prescott the second-highest-paid player in the league, behind only Patrick Mahomes, and slightly ahead of Deshaun Watson.
Everybody can be happy with the new contract, Prescott for the millions of obvious reasons and the Cowboys for finally wrapping up a negotiation that should have been done two years ago but which now falls under the heading of better late than never. Those are the most important points. But there are other key takeaways from the latest quarterback blockbuster move of the offseason.
- Prescott and Jerry Jones are getting ready for an even bigger payday -- for both of them -- coming soon. This deal is for just four years, which means Prescott will be a free agent again at the still-in-his-prime age of 31. If the Cowboys want to keep Prescott -- who also has a no franchise tag clause in this contract -- they'll have to be back at the negotiating table in just three years. That gives Prescott a fortuitously timed second bite at the free agent apple right when the new media deals, which are being negotiated now and which could command double the rights fees from the television networks, will be exploding team coffers, with the pandemic-caused revenue dip for 2021 long in the rearview mirror. Nobody knows that better than Jones. And, presumably, Prescott and his agent.
- The Chiefs should be very thankful for Mahomes. He remains the game's highest-paid player, as he should be. But because the contract extension he signed last year runs for 10 years -- Mahomes wanted a longer deal -- he will still have seven years remaining on the deal when Prescott again hits free agency after the 2024 season. You can't call a contract for $500 million a bargain, but it does allow the Chiefs to spread the hit over a much longer period of time, making it significantly easier to keep other high-priced talent around Mahomes.
- There is a ton of pressure on the other teams in the NFC East right now. Washington and Philadelphia currently aren't sure who their starting quarterbacks will be this season and, in Washington's case, the answer is probably not even on the roster. And the Giants, while improving, still need a talent upgrade at significant roster spots, and questions remain about Daniel Jones. It took only seven victories to win the division in 2020, and the Cowboys, despite their backup-quarterback induced disaster, had a chance to win it on the regular season's final day. With the best quarterback in the division under contract, prepare for months of talk this offseason about the Cowboys being the favorite to win the NFC East -- and it won't be wrong.
- Remember when the Cowboys gave Ezekiel Elliott the big contract before giving one to Prescott? It was a mistake not to prioritize Prescott over everyone else in 2019. It's good for Prescott that it worked out this way, but that shortsightedness cost the Cowboys today, and will likely cost them again when Prescott is ready for his next contract. The no-trade and no-tag provisions mean Prescott controls his future. With this new contract, his present is already blindingly bright.
- It is very good to be a star player right now. This has been the offseason of quarterbacks exercising their extraordinary power in the NFL. For Prescott, he used his leverage to get the big money, a relatively short-term deal he coveted with the Cowboys. He, though, merely follows the likes of Matthew Stafford, who requested a trade from the Lions and upgraded to the Rams, and Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, who are making life miserable for the Seahawks and Texans, respectively, in hopes of either improving their working conditions or forcing trades. Maybe NFL players will never have anywhere near the power of NBA players because their contracts are not guaranteed, but it is refreshing to see the occasional player pull the strings instead of the other way around.