The Dallas Cowboys took plenty of criticism from fans, analysts and even team owner Jerry Jones for their lackluster performance against the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon, but it is hard to put much blame on quarterback Dak Prescott.

Even with Dallas a disappointing 6-5, Prescott leads the league in passing yards (3,433) and is on pace to set a career high in touchdown rate, with 21 touchdowns over 398 attempts, a 5.3 percent rate. His biggest strides in his fourth season have come in avoiding sacks (a league-low 2.8 percent sack rate, compared to nearly 10 percent in 2018) and targeting his receivers down the field, with his average throw traveling almost 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, a career high.

Prescott’s strong play has placed him among the best NFL quarterbacks; he is the third-most valuable passer of 2019, per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, behind only MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes. The game charters at Pro Football Focus agree, rating Prescott the fifth-best quarterback of the season.

“We are rewarded he is having the type of year he has had. He has risen to the occasion,” Jones said of Prescott, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “For a lot of reasons it is good for him to have the year he is having.”

It’s certainly good for Prescott, who is in the final year of his rookie contract that pays him $2 million this season. (This is Prescott’s fourth season, but as a fourth-round pick, he’s not subject to a fifth-year option.) NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported in August that Prescott turned down a contract extension worth $30 million per year, and while there was some speculation that Prescott might sign an extension early in the season, it never happened. If there’s no agreement before March, the Cowboys can use the exclusive franchise tag, which would result in a salary of approximately $33 million for 2020, using the average of the top five quarterback salaries next season.

Prescott has joked about betting on himself, and the bet has clearly come in, with the 26-year-old widely expected to receive a massive raise this offseason.

How much has Prescott’s stellar campaign been worth? Based on the relationship between performance and salary over the past few years we can estimate a player’s market value using expected points added — the number of points scored above what we would expect given the down, distance and field position of each play. NFL teams spent an average of $372,396 in cap dollars for every point added by their quarterbacks over the past four seasons, with the 2019 campaign numbers adjusted for 16 games.

The Cowboys’ offense is producing 8.7 expected points added per game on Prescott’s throws this season, per data from TruMedia, which in turn would value Prescott’s 2019 performance at nearly $52 million over a full season. The Cowboys scored almost exactly what we would have expected them to on his throws in 2018 (1.4 expected points added per game) and he actually underachieved a year earlier (2.5 fewer points per game in 2017), illustrating just how much he has progressed.

Plus, Prescott should be in the prime of his career over his next deal. Numerous studies have found the peak period of quarterback performance occurs between the ages of 26 and 30. It isn’t easy to isolate expected points added data for every quarterback in the NFL, but signal callers with a similar level of Approximate Value as Prescott’s decline 15 percent, on average, from ages 27 to 30. (Approximate Value, created by Doug Drinen, assigns a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year.)

If we apply those decline estimates (which are, admittedly, rough estimates) to Prescott’s value for 2019 via expected points added as calculated above ($52 million) we can project his four-year contract value to be $148.8 million over four years, for an average value of $37.2 million per year. This is very close to the figure NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth discussed on “The Dan Patrick Show” recently when he said the Cowboys “are going to be lucky to get him for $40 million a year.” That would break new ground in the NFL; Russell Wilson’s contract carries the largest average annual value going into 2020 at $35 million per year. Gulp.

“I’m not known as a guy that gets hand cramps when I’m writing checks,” Jones said this week, when asked about Prescott’s future.

So how would a deal such as that compare to Prescott’s peers?

Recent multiyear extensions signed by quarterbacks include Derek Carr (five years, $125 million with $40 million fully guaranteed), Matthew Stafford (five years, $135 million with $60.5 million fully guaranteed), Jimmy Garoppolo (five years, $137.5 million with $41.7 million fully guaranteed), Matt Ryan (five years, $150 million with $94.5 million fully guaranteed), Aaron Rodgers (four years, $134 million with $79.2 million fully guaranteed), Russell Wilson (four years, $140 million with $70 million fully guaranteed), Carson Wentz (four years, $128 million with $66.5 million fully guaranteed) and Jared Goff (four years, $134 million with $57 million fully guaranteed).

The Cowboys have just a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, and are in some degree of turmoil entering their Thanksgiving meeting with the 8-3 Buffalo Bills. Prescott has just one career playoff win and still hasn’t been part of a victory over an opponent with a winning record in 2019 (0-4). But his performance this season has left no doubt that he is one of the most valuable passers in the NFL, and he’ll soon have the salary to match.

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