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Sudden opportunity to start positions Cowboys' Andy Dalton for big payday 

Andy Dalton has a chance to make himself a lot of money over the next 11 games as the Dallas Cowboys' new starting quarterback, and he doesn't have to wait until free agency in March.

The one-year, $3 million contract Dalton signed in May also includes $4 million in incentives, all of them theoretically attainable now that Dak Prescott is out for the season -- though Dalton, 32, would need to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win to earn the full amount.

Here's how Dalton's incentives break down, all contingent on playing a percentage of the Cowboys' offensive snaps, according to people with knowledge of the contract:

  • 50% regular-season playtime and the Cowboys make the playoffs: $1 million.
  • 35% regular-season playtime and 50% playtime in a wild-card playoff win: $500,000.
  • 35% regular-season playtime and 50% playtime in a divisional playoff win: $500,000.
  • 35% regular-season playtime and 50% playtime in a conference championship win: $750,000.
  • 35% regular-season playtime and 50% playtime in a Super Bowl win: $1.25 million.

Doctors have told Prescott he's facing a four- to six-month recovery after undergoing surgery last Sunday for a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle suffered against the New York Giants. Dalton, the longtime Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, took over and completed 9 of 11 passes for 111 yards in a 37-34 win.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, among others, has made it clear that Prescott remains the team's franchise QB, though the sides will face another high-profile negotiation after failing to agree to a long-term contract in July. A second franchise tag for Prescott in 2021 would cost about $37.7 million for one season.

If Dalton plays well, he could be the among the most coveted veteran quarterbacks to actually hit the free-agent market in March. Others with expiring contracts include: New England's Cam Newton, Indianapolis' Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, New Orleans' Jameis Winston, Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky, Miami's Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Chargers' Tyrod Taylor and the Jets' Joe Flacco.

The Colts, Bears and Buccaneers all showed interest in acquiring Dalton via trade from the Bengals before those teams' quarterback plans solidified in March. The Bengals ended up releasing Dalton soon after they drafted Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick, and sources say Dalton had similar contract offers from the Cowboys, Jets and Jaguars.

Dalton chose Dallas, even though Prescott's durability -- he'd never missed a game in four-plus NFL seasons before last week's injury -- made it seem unlikely Dalton would see the field. Dalton had recently built a home in Dallas and saw an opportunity to learn under new coach Mike McCarthy on a talented offensive team with playoff hopes.

Now, Dalton is thrust into the spotlight of a Cowboys team that's 2-3, but still leads the struggling NFC East. His first start comes Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium.