Sunday will see four teams play for a ticket to Super Bowl LVIII, and unfortunately none of them are the Dallas Cowboys. Over the last 27 years we have grown accustomed to this ritual which means number 28 should not be too difficult.
Obviously the goal is for the Cowboys to be playing this weekend and in the final game of the season a year from now. In this moment it feels difficult to imagine this as the case as the team has already decided to bring Mike McCarthy back for 2024, and to do so with him in a contract year. Generally speaking that type of situation does not tend to end well, although Jason Garrett did turn in a 12-4 season when such was the case for him in 2014; however, his team wound up losing in the playoffs to Mike McCarthy of all coaches.
With McCarthy’s contractual situation established, the next point of focus that we will all naturally turn our attention towards is that of Dak Prescott. Dak has a $60M cap hit (rounding up just a bit) in 2024 so it has made all sorts of sense that the Cowboys would be extending him this offseason. But the playoff loss that Dallas suffered was incredibly damaging and has cast doubt over just about everything.
One way or another the Cowboys are going to have to make a decision and need to do so with confidence in it.
An argument could be made that the Dallas Cowboys need to go all in on 2024
The post linked above laid out the facts surrounding Dak Prescott and why an extension for him seems inevitable. Prescott is a quarterback worth paying, but nobody can deny that the state of things right now makes questioning everything – including Dak Prescott – fair game.
It would be monumental for Dallas to absorb all of Prescott’s cap hit next season, but as many have noted, perhaps the team is ready and willing to do so in the name of maintaining options for the future. Given that McCarthy is now in a contract year himself it would behoove the Cowboys to line their quarterback and head coach up from a timeline perspective as any new head coach (hypothetically in 2025) would likely want some say in the situation at quarterback.
While we can look at the facts, it helps to have an expert weigh in on them. The incomparable Jason Fitzgerald penned something at OverTheCap.com that took a look at the Dak Prescott situation and it is all well worth your time.
Fitzgerald touches on all sides of the coin including cutting Dak outright, extending him outright, restructuring him, etc., but offered something interesting about the 2024 season specifically. Bold emphasis is mine.
Should Dallas Extend Prescott?
I think it is a hard decision and perhaps the lessons from the Romo extension may come into play here. Romo had one superb year with Dallas following his extension and then his body gave out on him and he played just five games in two years. Ultimately, Dallas took on about $62 million in additional cap charges for what amounted to a 12 win season and a divisional round playoff loss. Dallas only came out of the Romo deal ok because they wound up with the rookie contract benefit of Prescott to offset the cap hits of Romo.
While the injury risk is probably lower with Prescott you do have to ask yourself what I think was the biggest underlying issue with Romo: if you can not win with Prescott making $40 million a year what makes you think you can win with him at $60 million a year? Really this gets down to an underlying issue of a team not looking for other options at the position so they have a different option, but that is a topic for another day.
If Dallas is going to extend Prescott they probably need to re-evaluate some of the things they are doing with roster building. Given the magnitude of the contract Dallas probably should put all the chips in the middle of the table for 2024 and 2025 when it comes to salary cap structure and actually begin taking more risks in free agency to improve the overall roster. Dallas is typically at the top of the NFL in homegrown players, but if you need a boost sometimes you have to take those outside risks, and then deal with the cap fallout later on. Extending Prescott and just going business as usual wouldn’t seem to make much sense.
Ultimately this all boils down to the Cowboys and picking one camp to operate in and doing so with every ounce of energy that they have. If they want to extend Dak because they think he is the future, then they need to do that as soon as possible in order to experience some salary cap relief to build around him for both the present and the future. Again, this is if they are committed to him long-term.
But if the Cowboys are experiencing any kind of doubt about Prescott serving as their quarterback in 2025 and beyond (a fair thing to ponder), then they cannot have one foot in and one foot out. It is not ideal in the true sense of the word, but you might as well preserve future freedoms and structure things so that you maintain the ability to move on past 2024 but also do everything within your power to field as competitive of a team as possible throughout the season.
As Fitzgerald indicates though, and as we all know very well, the idea of going all in on a season runs pretty counter to the Dallas Cowboys preferred methods of operation. They do not like to chase big-name free agents or wheel and deal in the NFL Draft. It is their preference to build (in their mind) teams that will be competitive for long and sustained periods which is a more difficult proposition if you are charging this on a credit card (so to speak).
But once again, if the team truly wants to move forward into 2024 with Mike McCarthy in a contract year, they have already sort of taken one step down this path. If they elect to approach the roster-building portion of the offseason the way that they always have then they will in fact be living in both worlds simultaneously which is in no way a path to any real success.