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How the Cowboys handle Dak Prescott’s contract will reveal much.

What the Cowboys do with Dak Prescott’s contract will tell us a lot

While the main focus of our attention is on the search for a new defensive coordinator to replace Dan Quinn, now head coach of the Washington Commanders, we never quit looking for signposts about what the Dallas Cowboys are going to do in a very uncertain year.

Mike McCarthy is now a lame duck head coach, and many of the current assistants also are in the last year of their contracts, which could lead to a large exodus on the defensive side, many perhaps to follow Quinn to Washington.

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There are also the somewhat unspecific comments by owner and general manager Jerry Jones about being “all in” for this year to muddy the picture.

In a conversation with our managing editor Dave Halprin, he mentioned one thing that might tell us more than anything else about what the team is up to: How they handle Dak Prescott’s contract. It made a ton of sense to me.

That is why. Like many decisions a team makes, it starts with the salary cap. According to Over the Cap, they currently have about $20 million in their pockets as the start of the league year approaches.

Prescott’s contract could be manipulated to create more cap space than others, but it’s not the only contract they have to work with.

They will need space, as they have several free agents they could consider re-signing, such as Tyron Smith. But there are two things you can do with Prescott.

Mostly they rely on it to expand. Like McCarthy, Prescott is currently in the final year of his contract and carries a huge cap hit this season. In most cases, expansion is discussed. This will bring more than $26 million into space. It’s a logical move for a franchise quarterback.

But there is a big assumption here and you all know the old saying about it. It’s management’s commitment to Prescott as a QB to help break the playoff barrier that has caused this team to get past it multiple times instead.

As with McCarthy, there are compelling questions about whether he can do it. With so many serious losses over the last few seasons, Prescott has completely failed. He is an outstanding person, as evidenced by his receipt of the Walter Payton Person of the Year Award.

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However, there is no evidence that he can consistently bring a high level of play to the field when the team needs it most. He extends his contract with a huge new salary, which will tie the team to him for years to come.

They don’t have to go that route. They may also do another restructuring that adds a few more years to the dead money, but that hasn’t been a deterrent in the past.

This would still create about $22 million in space and provide much more flexibility. This will give Prescott a chance to prove he is the quarterback he needs to be.

This raises some obvious questions. If he does not renew his contract, he will become a free agent (FA) after this year. The NFL is a quarterback-starved league, and many teams are unhappy with their current options.

Prescott’s issues might not deter some of those from making big offers. There have been many cases of QBs who had their struggles with one team, but found success with a change of scenery and coaching.

The most recent example is Jared Goff, who led the Detroit Lions to the NFC championship – an achievement that has eluded Dallas for decades, and is thought to be the make or break for McCarthy this year.

It may be for Prescott as well. If that is the case, it will demand even more from Prescott this year, because the price tag should be huge given the market for quarterbacks of any talent at all. If the choice is restructuring rather than expansion, a desire to move on is implied.

This is the second big question. What are the plans to replace Prescott if necessary? Dave makes a point here that will probably offend some people.

This may be why they acquired Trey Lance. Let me give some of you some time to regain your composure.

Think about it. Why did they spend emergency capital to deal with Lance? He was cheap as a backup last year, but his 2024 salary is $5.3 million and he’s a cap hit.

Untested backups are expensive. This year is also the final year of Lance’s contract. This is his only chance to prove himself. Remember, he didn’t join until late in camp last year, so the team didn’t get much credit for him.

This will be his first real offseason with the Cowboys. But they probably still thought they had something to make a move like this. It was a bit of a mystery at the time.

But Dallas’ track record of evaluating talent should give you confidence if you believe he has true potential.

And, as previously mentioned, coaches often think they can get more out of their players than their previous employees.

Lance’s status as a former No. 3 overall pick is one of the things the team values, but it appears there’s more to it than that.

Obviously, a lot will depend on Lance’s performance in training camp and especially the three preseason games in which he will be rated the most highly regarded.

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If he is successful, the idea of him becoming an alternative to Prescott after the 2024 season will become more realistic. It all depends on what they do with Prescott.

The restructuring leaves these options open. And Prescott’s contract could be extended later this season if he agrees.

Extending Prescott rather than restructuring could move them toward sticking with the veteran for the foreseeable future.

In some ways, the extension will provide some clarity for the Cowboys. A restructuring comes with more uncertainty, but it also implies major changes at the quarterback position and coaching staff if 2024 is a poor year.

Considering missing the conference playoff round would be another major upset, this is a lot more likely than many people think.

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