“As long as X team has Y quarterback, they will always have Z chance.” Fans hear this remark from commentators all the time, but it is used to reference only those rare quarterbacks who have successfully led their teams to the big dance. Among active quarterbacks, Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, and Drew Brees come to mind. And Dak Prescott? He gives it all he’s got, but he is not (yet?) a member of their amazing kind. He is somewhat of an overachiever who seems to be steadily earning believer after believer.
Take Less Money With A Rich Honey?
Among those top tier franchise faces, Tom Brady is the only one to have repeatedly and unusually accepted less money in exchange for priceless flexibility within his team’s annual cap spaces. Yes, his wife – international modeling superstar Gisele Bündchen – makes enough profit through her businesses and endorsements that Brady could give back all his NFL earnings and still have absolutely zero financial yearnings. Yet, Brady was not married to Gisele when he first began (the calculated risk of) taking less in favor of TEAM success. Brady had no way of knowing (for certain) that his career would last as long as it has and that he and the Patriots would have enjoyed such incredible success while other NFL franchises, particularly one as storied as the Dallas Cowboys, would wallow in an organizational existence so comparatively hollow.
The one-dimensional connection between Brady and Prescott is that both were viewed – on some draft day level – as forgettable players until their current teams kicked their tires and answered their pro football prayers. That is where the similarities start and abruptly stop with a steep support system drop. Brady benefits from an incomparable head coach and a brilliant offensive coordinator (with whom he has not always rubbed the right way but whom almost always draws up the right play). Prescott has Jason Garrett and a (promising?) rookie OC who has been given the green light to dare it. There is no comparison, and it is woefully embarrassin’.
While Brady would happily tell you how (repeatedly and strategically) accepting lower pay can make your team’s competitive day, it is only relevant if Dak also has a coaching staff similarly-free from an owner’s interference, leaving those molders of men to perpetually pursue flexible scheme adherence in a remarkably enduring way.
Regardless and deep down, Dak knows (in the absence of best-possible coaching with the regular season fast-approaching) that taking less can (possibly) help ensure a higher-quality roster at key positions to create a longer-lasting legacy of efficacy . . . and potentially result in multiple shots at an NFL crown.
Market Price Can Be Nice
Back in the days before the “rookie wage scale,” the NFL was treacherously trending towards mammoth first-round rookie contracts unintentionally designed to place all but the most forward-thinking, fiscally-responsible teams in salary cap jail. Some organizations built their teams around those dangerous deals (often sacrificing critical depth elsewhere as a result) and delivered an epic fail. Gargantuan signing bonus guarantees to college stars so professionally-unproven (with occasional exceptions who had their maturity groovin’) risked untimely complacency and could never account for freak injury . . . or sudden-and-repeated boo-boo history. The Raiders had JaMarcus “Zero Hussle” Russell. The Lions had (and still have) Matthew “Big Gun, Little Fun” Stafford. The Rams had Sam “Forever Brittle” Bradford.
While the rookie wage scale has encouraged (some but not all) teams to (more aggressively) build championship efforts around successful rookies and early-career veterans who have easily outperformed their original agreements, there is little to no way to escape a return to those substantial, (now) well-earned appeasements. This fact applies equally to Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott (each of whom has been doing their on-the-field best at selling it). They are each looking at you (GM Jerry), and the bill always comes due.
Teams can spend all the time they want negotiating to avoid setting the market, and agents (or the players themselves) can tell those teams to “take this offer and park it.” Teams can point to “Team-First Tom,” and say “THAT guy is the forward-thinking bomb.” Players can respond with “I want to win as much as anyone in this league, but I can’t continue with this fiscal fatigue. I’m unwilling to take that short-career risk, making my earnings unreasonably brisk. And if you keep this up, I’ll start talking about your mom.” Teams can say “But LOOK at how many rings Team-First Tom has on display!” Players can respond with complete dismay “Can you guarantee me that any cap relief I provide will always be used to procure studs who can play?!” Teams can say “Well, that’s unfair to put such undue pressure on decisions you really can’t measure!” Players can respond with “So, we’re in agreement that I have no other recourse but to go for market value appeasement?” Teams can say “Well, we can still attempt to trade you to the highest bidder for wonderful draft picks befitting, um, err . . . just kidding. We agree, but please do allow us a moment of bereavement.”
Market price can be nice, but the challenging chore for Dallas (preferably within the same time span) is to successfully get such deals in the can but thrice. GM Jerry and son Stephen are as adept at salary cap manipulation, err, management as any team but – in trying to extend the Cowboys’ latest version of “The Triplets” – the team will potentially be forced to roll the dice.
“Even if Dak, Zeke, and Amari did accept team-friendly contracts, couldn’t they recover the difference with lucrative endorsement compacts?” you understandably inquire. Possibly, but the players rightfully expect such sponsorships to be wholly external to fulfilling the financial figures they believe they have earned or that (due to established market value) they currently desire.
Skill Surety Versus Abysmal Maturity
While team owners would LOVE for all players to have Jaylon Smith's "Clear Eye View” (with an extraordinary show of appreciation for the draft day risk taken by the Cowboys’ organization), that approach – for so many other players not having to recover from a devastating knee injury resulting in (temporary) drop foot – goes completely kaput. So many other players (lucky enough to not begin their pro football careers having to mercilessly grind recovery gears) know full well their opportunities in the NFL limelight may last but a few years. And yet, there are still, STILL so many other players who could at least make it easier for owners to focus exclusively on their game-day production instead of their personal time destruction.
Rarely has there been an athletic talent so worthy of being professionally compensated but so personally unmotivated. And the man-child who controls that fantastic game day skill? He simply cannot be trusted outside the lines because of a history of idle-time decisions that should make any NFL organization competitively ill.
Ezekiel Elliott the professional football talent is a generational player. Ezekiel Elliott, the human being (since at least 2014) has not had a societal prayer, often behaving like a spoiled teen. Zeke’s name has appeared in more than one police report. It was only a matter of time before he unintentionally-but-inevitably attracted the kind of (Las Vegas) subhuman that shamelessly attempts to extort.
“But Zeke’s never been arrested!” you insist. Zeke’s inability to stay out of trouble has never been contested (from Ohio State to his current professional slate). His off-the-field lifestyle might normally give (even the owner of the most valuable franchise in all of sports) serious pause to become further invested. Still, “The Tortured Cowboys Fan” gets the gist.
GM Jerry ain’t gettin’ any younger, and in order to get any closer to his “I did it MY way” goal, he will (surely?) find a way to reel in this off-the-field bungler. Damn the consequential cap space hole (if Commissioner Goodell is, once again, compelled to derail Dallas when it is on a righteous roll). Though, the equally-imperfect Jones will not seal the deal without picking his (head-scratching) spots and taking a few “Zeke who?” shots.
“I've earned the right with Zeke to joke. Period. I've earned that right (because – on his seemingly ungrateful behalf and against Roger Goodell – I put up such a public 2017 fight).” – Jerry Jones.
While GM Jerry is privately irked at the audacity of his critically-important running back (who – without sufficient guaranteed goodies – appears willing to remain off the bodily abuse track and in his training hoodie), Jones is putting on a brave face in suggesting the Cowboys are prepared for a not-so-run-centric offensive attack. Time will soon tell if someone’s stink causes the other to blink.
Trendsetters Or Rejection Letters?
One thing remains undeniably clear with the start of the regular season so dangerously near. The NFL does not (always) revolve around “America’s Team,” as proven by the deal-making actions of other organizations that helped trigger this “entrenched position” theme.
The Rams did the Cowboys (with an offensive attack centered on their own stud running back) no favors when they gave talented Todd Gurley (now suffering from a degenerative knee condition in a hurry) a four-year, $57.5M extension with $45M in guarantees, of course. It will be 2021 before they can validate a (reasonable) dead money divorce.
The Eagles did Dallas (with a statistically better Dak delivery) no favors when they gave Carson Wentz (a promising passer unable to survive defensive dents) a four-year, $128M continuance with $107.87M in guarantees, of course. Prescott supporters went hysterically hoarse (with colossal condemnation and insistence that Dak’s own righteous reward will trigger an incredible celebration). Prescott is – currently and without hesitation – a better-than-average passer with tolerable telemetry so ground game complimentary, but any deal that is a single dollar deficient to the one dealt to Wentz will (justifiably) fail to register with Cowboys Nation.
Therefore, both Zeke and Prescott (understandably) believe they have no choice but to powerfully project a maximum compensation voice. And Cooper? With a 2019 base salary of $13.9M, he (publicly) appears content to continue being a relatively silent trooper until other pending receiver deals around the league officially place that annual figure in the pooper.
According to Stephen Jones, Dallas is "damn sure not going to be a market-setter." And if arrangements cannot be made on who gets properly paid, the Cowboys are willing to go into 2019 with each player on a "prove it deal" . . . a scenario that (for the moment) is sure to make (the impatient among) Cowboys Nation reel. “And I’ve got some backbone to keep it that way,” GM Jerry was heard to say. And in his attention-seeking way, that bone-on-bone friction makes for must-see TV, (temporary?) indigestion for Cowboys Nation, and ultimate exposure of each player or GM Jerry as the true bed-wetter.
Will the Cowboys become one of the latest trendsetters, or will they continue to exchange rejection letters (with players determined to see Dallas be maximum guaranteed moolah payers)?
Will Zeke really pull a complete Le’Veon Bell and tell the Jones’s to go to hell . . . or will GM Jerry bring Elliott’s work stoppage to a halt by reaching (further) into his vault to break the salary standoff spell?
We shall see. We always do.