The Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal by Wednesday’s deadline, which means the quarterback will play the 2020 NFL season on the $31.4 million exclusive franchise tag.
Prescott joins 11 other NFL players who will play on the franchise tag in 2020, including Cincinnati‘s A.J. Green, Denver‘s Justin Simmons, Jacksonville‘s Yannick Ngakoue, New England‘s Joe Thuney, Washington’s Brandon Scherff, L.A. Chargers‘ Hunter Henry, Pittsburgh‘s Bud Dupree, New York Giants’ Leonard Williams, Minnesota‘s Anthony Harris, Baltimore‘s Matthew Judon and Tampa Bay‘s Shaquil Barrett.
A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Tennessee‘s Derrick Henry reached a four-year, $50 million deal with the Titans that includes $25.5 million guaranteed — the only player on the franchise tag to agree to a long-term deal Wednesday. The Chiefs‘ Chris Jones agreed to a four-year contract on Tuesday.
Green and Ngakoue were the only players who had not signed their franchise tenders.
Since the franchise tag was implemented in 1993, the most players to play a full season under the tag is nine (in 2009 and 2012), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Cowboys’ organization and Prescott’s agent, Todd France, opened negotiations on a multiyear agreement in the spring of 2019 but were unable to close the gaps to make sure the Cowboys have their quarterback in place beyond 2020.
The sides did not have any substantive negotiations since March, when sources said the Cowboys put out an offer worth $34.5 million a year, which would have been the second-highest average for a quarterback behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and a guarantee on par with the $110 million given to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
Prescott guaranteed on June 22 that he’d be at the start of training camp when he signed the tender. But even as the deadline approached this week, there was no added sense of urgency to get a deal done with both sides locked into their positions. The Cowboys wanted Prescott to sign a deal of at least five years in length, while France countered with four-year offers.
And now it leaves open the possibility of Prescott departing after this season or the 2021 season should the Cowboys use the franchise tag on him again next year. Under franchise tag rules, the Cowboys and France cannot re-engage on multiyear talks until after the 2020 season. If the Cowboys were to place the tag on Prescott again next season, it would cost nearly $38 million.
The coronavirus pandemic compounds the issues because it is possible the league’s 2021 salary cap will remain flat, or possibly drop, which could lead to the Cowboys to cutting players or restructuring contracts should they look to tag Prescott for a second time.
Since the franchise tag system has been in place, only two quarterbacks have played the entire season on the tag. Washington twice used it on Kirk Cousins (2016 and 2017) but never made an offer to Cousins in the ballpark of what the Cowboys offered Prescott. In 2005, Drew Brees played on the tag for the San Diego Chargers, but the Chargers had Philip Rivers, their 2004 first-round pick, waiting to take over.
In 2018, the Vikings signed Cousins to a three-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $84 million as he maximized his earning potential by waiting.
Prescott, 26, could follow a similar path. He is the first quarterback to have been tagged by the Cowboys, and Prescott will be only the fourth to play under the tag, joining Flozell Adams (2002), Anthony Spencer (2012 and 2013) and DeMarcus Lawrence (2018).
Adams and Lawrence signed long-term deals the year after being tagged.
At the start of the 2019 season, the Cowboys thought they were closing in on an extension with Prescott that would have placed him between Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz ($32 million) and Goff ($33.5 million) — fellow 2016 draft picks — in terms of average per year and a guarantee of close to $100 million.
Prescott opted to wait and had his best statistical season with career highs in passing yards (4,902) and touchdown passes (30) in 2019. In his first three seasons, he had not thrown for more than 3,885 yards or 23 touchdown passes.
He will be preparing for his first season under new coach Mike McCarthy, who has tweaked the offense but kept the same playcaller in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Prescott did not take part in the virtual offseason program, but he had some communication with the staff to get somewhat familiar with the terminology.
In the past 16 months, the Cowboys have signed Lawrence ($105 million), Amari Cooper ($100 million), Ezekiel Elliott ($90 million), Jaylon Smith ($64 million) and La’el Collins ($50 million) to lucrative extensions as they tried to negotiate a lucrative deal with Prescott.
While the $31.4 million under the tag for Prescott in 2020 is the largest salary in Cowboys’ team history, it was not what either side wanted through repeated expressions of a desire in getting a long-term deal done. Now they must wait again until 2021.
Green and the Bengals were unable to reach a deal before Wednesday’s deadline, and the veteran wide receiver is tentatively slated to play the 2020 season on a one-year deal worth $17.9 million.
Even before the pandemic depleted cash arsenals around the league, Green and the Bengals had been trending toward a short-term agreement.
The seven-time Pro Bowl player has not finished three of the past four seasons because of injuries. In 2019, Green didn’t play a single snap after he tore multiple ligaments in his left ankle during the first practice of the preseason. Going back to the 2018 season, Green has missed 23 of the last 24 games.
However, when healthy, Green has been one of the most productive players in the NFL. From the time he entered the league in 2011 until 2018, Green ranked fourth in total receiving yards with 8,907, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 2011 first-round pick was a key weapon for a franchise that made five straight playoff runs from 2011 to 2015.
ESPN’s Ben Baby contributed to this report.