Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told ESPN on Tuesday that the team is “off and running” on contract extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose deals both are up after this season. Both are expected to demand top dollar, though the harsh realities of the salary cap may come into play (Dallas also will have to figure out what to do with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has two years left on his deal).
Let’s look specifically at Prescott and whether he’s worth the $30 million per year that ESPN’s Todd Archer says he can expect.
In this corner sit the traditional stats compiled by Prescott over his first three NFL seasons (as collected by Bobby Belt, a field producer for the NFL Network and Cowboys game-day update reporter for SB Nation radio). They’re indeed impressive:
— Prescott is the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple seasons of 20 or more touchdown passes and fewer than 10 interceptions by the age of 25.
— Prescott is the only quarterback in NFL history with consecutive seasons of 20 or more touchdown passes and five or more rushing touchdowns.
— Prescott is the only quarterback in NFL history with multiple seasons of 20 passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions.
— Prescott is the only quarterback in NFL history with more than 20 games of a 100-plus passer rating (minimum 20 attempts) through the first three years of their career.
— Since 1994, Prescott is the NFL’s highest-rated passer (by an wide margin) when tied in the fourth quarter or overtime (minimum 50 pass attempts).
Prescott also was impressive in the postseason earlier this year, leading Dallas to a win over the Seahawks and helping Dallas keep things close in a loss to the Super Bowl-bound Rams. He rushed for a touchdown in both games and only had one interception.
But the advanced quarterback metrics compiled by Football Outsiders paint a different, less-rosy picture of Prescott’s play over his career. Here are his NFL rankings in three fancy stats over his career.
DYAR: 4th, 17th, 25th.
DVOA: 3rd, 17th, 26th.
QBR: 3rd, 5th, 19th.
(A quick glossary, straight from Football Outsiders. DYAR is defense-adjusted yards above replacement, which gives the value of the quarterback’s overall performance compared with replacement level, then adjusted for situation and opponent. DVOA is defense-adjusted value over average, representing the per-play value over an average quarterback in the same game situations. QBR is a metric that takes a quarterback’s stats but strips away numbers he doesn’t account for, such as dropped passes and yards after catch by receivers and missed blocks by offensive linemen. A quarterback’s play during close games also is incorporated into QBR.)
The following quarterbacks put up better numbers than Prescott in all three metrics last year: Andy Dalton, Mitchell Trubisky, Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins. Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, perhaps the two most-maligned starting quarterbacks in the league last year, were superior to Prescott in both DYAR and DVOA. But when you’re a quarterback — even just an average quarterback, as Prescott was in 2018 — and you’ve led the Cowboys to only their third postseason victory since 1996, team executives named Jones can overlook that.
One thing the Jones boys cannot overlook, however, is the salary cap. The Cowboys just doled out $65 million in guaranteed money to defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the most ever paid to a non-quarterback. At some point the bill for all this talent — Prescott, Cooper, Elliott — is going to come due, and the Cowboys’ strategy for keeping this nucleus together seems to be persuading them to take less money now (“doing well, but not maxed” in terms of contract size, Jones said) and let the Cowboys prestige work its magic for them when their playing days are over.
“You look at the TV booths, and you look at what these players do off the field,” Stephen Jones told Archer. “If we can put Super Bowl rings on these guys, then they’ll be legends around this area for many, many, many years to come. What they give up a little bit in their contract, they should be able to invest in being a Cowboy and making our teams better.
“Now, we’ve got to go get the job done as an organization, which means winning Super Bowls and doing great things on the field.”
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