Pay up, Jerry Jones.
The Dallas Cowboys anted up last week to end Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout with a six-year, $90 million contract extension that made him the NFL’s highest-paid running back and got him back into the fold in time for Sunday’s season opener at home against the New York Giants. That came after Jones, the team’s owner, already had handed out hefty extensions recently to linebacker Jaylon Smith and right tackle La’el Collins.
But for Jones and the Cowboys, the spending isn’t done, not with quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper next in line for huge-money deals. And Prescott made his case against the Giants, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys made it look easy with a 35-17 triumph.
It was Prescott, not Elliott, who led the way Sunday. Elliott, the two-time NFL rushing champion, did run for a touchdown. But he had only 13 carries after missing all of training camp and the preseason, managing 53 rushing yards.
The Cowboys were a pass-first team against the Giants. Prescott connected on 25 of 32 throws and had a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He had two 100-yard receivers, as Cooper had six catches for 106 yards and fellow wideout Michael Gallup had seven catches for 158 yards. Tight end Jason Witten had a touchdown catch in his first game back with the Cowboys after spending last season in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth.
Prescott is in the final season of his four-year rookie contract and has a salary of $2.025 million this season. Since he was not a first-round draft pick, there was no fifth-year option for the Cowboys in the deal and he is eligible for free agency next spring. The Cowboys could use the franchise player tag, if needed, to keep him off the free agent market. But they would like to avoid that and would prefer a long-term deal.
Jones knows that he can’t afford to wait. He told reporters after the game that an extension with Prescott is imminent and could be completed within days.
The market for Prescott has been pretty well set. The Los Angeles Rams last week signed quarterback Jared Goff to a four-year, $134 million contract extension that included $110 million in guaranteed money. That surpassed the four-year, $128 million extension that Carson Wentz signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in June. Goff, Wentz and Prescott all were drafted in 2016.
Goff was taken first overall in that draft by the Rams and Wentz went second to the Eagles. Prescott was not selected until the fourth round by the Cowboys. But he became an immediate rookie-year starter when Tony Romo got hurt during the preseason and never looked back. He has put himself on relatively even footing with Goff and Wentz, though he has not had the playoff success that Goff experienced last season when the Rams reached the Super Bowl.
Many contend that Elliott is the Cowboys’ most important offensive player and that Prescott benefits from opposing defenses focusing on the Dallas running game. That might be so. But there is no way to win in today’s NFL without a highly capable quarterback. Prescott gives the Cowboys a more-than-capable player at the most important position.
There had been some speculation that the Cowboys might manage to complete an extension with Prescott before this game. It didn’t happen. But Jones might want to act quickly. If Prescott keeps playing like he played Sunday, his price will only go up.
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