Kirk Cousins had some advice for Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott: Don’t be afraid of the franchise tag. The Minnesota signal-caller revealed to ESPN in May that he told Prescott those words after a November game between the Vikings and the Cowboys.
Cousins, after all, knows better than most what it’s like to have a contract situation drag on. After two straight years of playing on the tag for the Washington Redskins, Cousins finally hit the free-agent market in 2018 — and became the rare quarterback to sign a multi-year, fully guaranteed contract.
“I believe the franchise tag can be your friend,” Cousins said.
Prescott and the Cowboys were unable to reach a long-term extension Wednesday, the deadline for players on the franchise tag to do so. Instead, Prescott will now play the 2020 season under a one-year, $31.4 million contract — setting him up for further contract drama next offseason.
It’s a situation that strongly mirrors what happened with Cousins when he was a Redskin.
Over the last few months, Prescott has been questioned whether he truly wants to stay in Dallas. The Cowboys, likewise, have been asked whether they’re truly sold on Prescott as the face of their franchise. And there has been no shortage of leaked numbers, constant rumors and chatter.
Any of those narratives are relatable to fans who followed Cousins’ contract saga with Washington. All that’s missing is Prescott addressing his future at a coffee shop.
Prescott will be only the third quarterback to play under the tag. This year, only two players — Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (four years, $50 million) and Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones (four years, $85 million) — signed long-term deals after being given the franchise tag.
This year, Prescott joins 12 other players, including Washington’s Brandon Scherff, who did not reach an agreement.
Prescott, like Cousins, appears to be willing to bet on himself. The 26-year-old reportedly turned down a five-year, $175 million offer. That deal would have made him the league’s second-highest-paid player behind only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who agreed to a 10-year, $405 million extension last week.
Prescott apparently is willing to bet he can land an even richer deal next offseason — especially if he performs as well as he did in 2019. Dallas missed the postseason, but Prescott threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. He helped lead the Cowboys to the fifth-most efficient passing attack, according to Football Outsiders.
If Prescott is tagged again next year, his contract would jump to nearly $38 million.
Cousins won big by waiting out the Redskins. In 2016, he was tagged for $20 million, then turned down a deal the following year that would have guaranteed him at least $53 million (and $72 million for injury). He played 2017 on a one-year, $24 million contract before signing a three-year, $84 million deal with the Vikings in 2018.
This offseason, Cousins signed a two-year extension for another $66 million.
“If you’re good enough, the cream’s going to rise to the top, and you’re going to get compensated the way you want to,” Cousins said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like, but if you deserve it, and you’ve earned it, it’s going to happen. So you’ve just got to stay the course and stay patient. Certainly in my journey, it all worked out. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing.”
Cousins is used to proving himself. In 2012, Washington drafted him in the fourth round out of Michigan State — despite taking Robert Griffin III second overall. He eventually won the starting job years later and emerged as a viable starter.
That’s a story that can resonate with Prescott. In 2016, he was also drafted in the fourth round, despite Dallas already having veteran Tony Romo. Prescott got his shot when Romo suffered a back injury — and filling in as starter, Prescott helped lead Dallas to a 12-4 season.
The Dallas quarterback is running his own version of the Kirk Cousins playbook.