The Dallas Cowboys draft well, particularly in the first round of the NFL Draft. Dating back to 2010, there are only two misses on the leger. The second thing the Jones family does well is take care of their home-grown talent. Of the nine Cowboys first-round picks since 2010 who have received second contracts in the NFL, six have gotten second contracts with the Dallas Cowboys.
Where does that leave CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons? Sure, Trevon Diggs was a second-round pick, but he was also an All-Pro in his second season while leading the NFL in interceptions that year. And then there’s the looming Dak Prescott extension.
The first question is, can they get all those deals done? The second question, which is more complex, is whether they should do it.
Can the Dallas Cowboys Pay All Their Stars?
Yes, the Cowboys can pay anybody they bloody want to. The NFL salary cap isn’t a myth, it’s just incredibly easy to manipulate it to suit a team’s cap needs. Cowboys COO Stephen Jones agrees.
“That group, we feel really good about,” Jones said of that foursome. “I feel like as we move forward, it’ll all be about timing, but we feel good that we can work within the parameters of the cap and make those types of things happen.”
Usually, the Cowboys brass would rather play hardball through the media and discuss the trials and tribulations of maneuvering around the salary cap. “At the end of the day” is embedded in the brains of every Cowboys fan when listening to the COO speak about the salary cap.
Trevon Diggs’ contractual situation is the most urgent. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb have two seasons left on their current deals. Micah Parsons has three years left on his current deal (including the fifth-year option), but he’ll be extension-eligible next offseason.
“I think it’s doable; it’s just part of managing the football team and part of managing the salary cap,” Jones said to reporters. “I think it’s helpful to know what the situation is gonna look like.”
The cap increased by $16 million between 2022 and 2023, and the salary cap isn’t going anywhere but sharply up in the future, either. The NFL’s $113 billion, with a b, television rights deal, will make sure of that. That deal begins its life in 2023 and will cause an explosion in the NFL’s salary cap.
Paying Trevon Diggs
If there were a player among the group that Dallas would choose not to extend, it would probably be Diggs. However, the cornerback opposite him currently is 32, and there are no viable No. 1 options anywhere else on the team. DaRon Bland shined as a rookie in the slot, but the Cowboys need far more than that to remain at the top of defensive efficiency rankings.
Although Diggs struggled to reproduce his ball production from the year before, one could argue that he played a more consistent brand of football in 2022. The 11 INT season made him an All-Pro. Still, he also played injured during the middle part of the season and took risks that his body couldn’t recover from in coverage, which led to too many big plays against the cornerback.
In 2022, he missed out on quite a few turnover opportunities that one would expect the ball-hawking CB to make, but he was far more structurally sound in coverage. The risks he took were more calculated, and when he did get beat by double moves, they were well-earned and set up offensively.
CB play can be finicky. Dan Quinn will almost certainly not continue passing on head-coaching opportunities forever. Changing the scheme likely won’t affect the play of the defensive line too much — the bigger change would come on the back end. And while potentially playing in a more zone-heavy scheme could benefit Diggs, the off-man Cover 1 Quinn deploys allows Diggs to use his aggression to the max situationally.
Being only 25 also helps his case. He should realistically remain in his athletic prime throughout the entirety of a second contract, which is very important at his position, specifically.
The highest CB contract currently sits at $21 million APY (Jaire Alexander). Denzel Ward leads in fully guaranteed money ($44.5 million) and total guarantees (71.25 million). According to Over the Cap, Ward will never cost the Browns a double-digit percentage of their salary cap at any point through 2027.
Demarcus Lawrence and Amari Cooper both accounted for over 10% of the Cowboys’ 2021 cap. A Diggs extension will likely look similar because of the ever-increasing cap. He’s well worth the asking price.
Paying CeeDee Lamb
There are currently eight wide receivers making more on average than Alexander, the highest-paid CB. Receiver production is far more sticky from year-to-year than cornerback production.
And in an offseason where the highest-paid wide receiver in free agency came in at $15 million and no other pass catcher made more than $11 annually, it could be time to negotiate Lamb’s deal now.
In fact, it would behoove the Cowboys to try and get Lamb’s deal done now, because waiting another season could be costly. A Tee Higgins extension raises the price of admission. Justin Jefferson will likely become the league’s highest-paid pass catcher when he inks his extension.
And that’s not the only reason the Cowboys should try to be proactive with his deal (and most deals). Lamb has increased his production and efficiency in each successive season.
A full 17-game season with a healthy Prescott could have devasting consequences for the Cowboys’ cap. If he has a 1,600-yard season, a deal may not get done until after the franchise tag has been used in that instance because he will have all of the leverage by that point.
Paying Micah Parsons
Seriously, that’s it. It doesn’t matter what it may cost. Parsons should and likely will be a Cowboy for life. Heck, he may end up being a Cowboy longer than Prescott at this point. Do it as fast as possible. Give him and David Mulugheta (Parsons’ agent) whatever they ask for, because waiting for a bargaining chip is a fool’s errand here.
Paying Dak Prescott
If things were different in the NFC, there could be an argument made that Dallas should do what it can to find Prescott’s replacement in the NFL Draft. If Dallas had to deal with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, and Lamar Jackson, maybe swinging for the upside fence would be a better argument.
But they are not, and one could argue Prescott is the best quarterback in the entire conference, depending on how one stacks him and Jalen Hurts alongside one another.
With a nearly $60 million cap hit in 2024, Dallas simply cannot afford not to extend Prescott after 2023. And they’ve already used Prescott’s contract to move money around for other players because they planned on extending him the whole time.
The Cowboys love “winning the deal.” Well, they got absolutely molly-whopped by Todd France (Prescott’s agent) in their last go-round.
- No-tag clause
- No-trade clause
- $95 million at signing (most ever at the time)
Dallas will almost certainly want to extend the life of the deal over a five-year period, while Prescott’s team likely wants a three-year deal to get him another lucrative deal at 33.
And after Jerry’s comments at the NFL Combine, it seems like they’ve softened their hardball stance on contracts. Likening Prescott to Tom Brady is something they would have never done the first time around when they regularly negotiated through the media.
“I think just as (Tom) Brady became, in my mind, better and better and more impactful on how they won as he got into his career, I think Dak (Prescott) really has those qualities. I think he can get better.”
There hasn’t been much of that from the Jones family recently. And that is as clear an indication as any that teams will be able to pay players very easily over the next few years while the market catches up with the exploding cap.