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Breaking down Dak Prescott’s options

When it comes to quarterback Dak Prescott, his options are simple. Ultimately, the final decision regarding whether to sign a long-term deal in Dallas will be made not by him as much as it will be made by the Cowboys.

Confused? Good. Keep reading. (Actually, you’ve already clicked, so my work here is done.)

With Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, the closing of the annual window for application of the franchise tag, becoming the first major decision point for player and team in 2021, the options are: (1) franchise tag; (2) long-term deal; or (3) no tag, no deal.

The Cowboys will, before Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, offer Prescott a long-term deal that he’ll either accept or reject. Yes, it’s his decision. But it’s up to the Cowboys to make him an offer he won’t refuse.

That’s where this process becomes incredibly simple. It has nothing to do with the quarterback market, contrary to what you may read or hear elsewhere. Prescott’s leverage comes not from what any other quarterback currently is making but from his own circumstances.

Last year, the Cowboys applied the exclusive franchise tag, which paid Prescott $31.4 million for 2020. To tag him again (franchise or transition), a 20-percent raise applies. He’ll make $37.68 million in 2021 under either tag. (Because it’s the same cost, the franchise tag is by far the better option. The transition tag provides only the right to match a long-term offer, with no compensation if the offer isn’t matched.)

That’s just the start of it. When comparing a long-term deal offered by the Cowboys to Prescott’s current circumstances, 2022 becomes incredibly relevant. That’s when Prescott would get $54.25 million under the franchise tag (a 44-percent bump given it would be his third franchise tag), $45.21 million under the transition tag (a 20-percent increase over 2021), or a free and clear shot at the open market.

It’s not easy to turn those three options into a firm two-year value. Still, Prescott currently knows that he will get over the next two years: (1) $91.93 million under the franchise-then-franchise model; (2) $82.896 million under the franchise-then-transition model; or (3) $37.68 million for a year plus whatever he gets as a truly unrestricted free agent in 2022.

To get Prescott to trade in his three-pronged future (each of which is lucrative), the Cowboys need to make him a long-term offer that is at least as good, in his assessment. That’s the leverage. That’s the balance. What, in the form of a multi-year deal, gets Prescott to trade in the bird in the hand?

And it’s not a bird-in-the-hand-two-in-the-bush-type situation. He already has the year-to-year bird in his hand. The Cowboys need to put a bird of equal or greater attraction in his other hand, or he’ll just keep the bird he already has.

It’s that simple. It’s that clear. And it’s on the Cowboys to make Prescott trade in the rights he currently has for the rights under a long-term contract.

The Cowboys could throw Prescott a curveball by not tagging him at all in 2021. That would put him on the open market, and his value would be driven by whatever a team would offer him. That also would leave the Cowboys without their preferred quarterback in 2021, or likely ever again.