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Why the franchise tag is a bad idea for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott

Sep 22, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrates his third quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the 2020 NFL offseason has officially started, it’s time to bask in the fun that is multiple, good-to-elite quarterbacks entering the free agent for the first time since the NFL began free agency in 1993.

One of the quarterbacks set to (at least nominally) reach the open market is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. From an individual perspective, there wasn’t much more that Prescott, a former fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2016, could have done to increase the value of his stock in 2019. To be fair, he started out really low, as we were skeptical of the idea that the Cowboys should pay Prescott a top-level deal, especially since he had been, to that point, a mid-level starter in the NFL (especially when weighing 2017-18 more than 2016).

All of that changed in 2019 as Kellen Moore — one of the best young playcallers in the NFL — and Prescott teamed up to lead an offense that was first in the NFL in yards per play, third in expected points added per play, first in net adjusted yards per passing play, and third in expected points added per pass play. Prescott was a big part of this, overcoming the league’s highest number drops (43) to generate this production, earning him the league’s third-highest wins above replacement mark of any player in the entire NFL.

[Editor's Note: PFF's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric is powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

All that said, the Cowboys didn’t win the NFC East (or even make the playoffs) in 2019, due in large part to noise. Further compounding this failure was the fact that, instead of giving Prescott a reasonable deal at any point up until now, they doled out $90 million, $63.75 million and $105 million deals to running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Jaylon Smith, and edge player Demarcus Lawrence, all while wide receiver Amari Cooper and cornerback Byron Jones are pending free agents.

With the fifth-most cap space and a new head coach, there have been rumors that the Cowboys are considering franchising Prescott. This would be a mistake for Dallas, since almost every circumstance that plays out under a tag puts them in a worse position than not:

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