LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 12: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott #4 scrambles against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

To pay or not to pay: that is the question surrounding the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott is one of several young quarterbacks in line for a pay raise, and, with Carson Wentz signing a massive contract extension, Prescott should be next up for a new deal. The question now becomes: is Dak Prescott worth the money? The former fourth-round pick is one of the most divisive players in the league, and some are wondering whether the Cowboys would be better off looking for a new franchise passer. Rest assured, the film and the analytics show that Dak Prescott should be the quarterback of the present and the future for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott Deserves His Payday

The Film

Nobody is arguing that Dak Prescott is one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL. However, Prescott has steadily improved over the last two years and put together enough good tape to be the franchise quarterback moving forward. The third-year quarterback finished 2018 with 3,885 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, and eight interceptions. However, basic statistics do not tell the whole story with Prescott.

Prescott had the misfortune of playing under Scott Linehan and his generic, bland scheme. In an era where offensive coordinators are more creative than ever, Linehan’s unoriginality only hindered Prescott’s development. When Prescott was allowed to improvise and use his mobility, he was capable of making some truly special plays.

While Prescott’s deep passing could use some improvement, the Mississippi State product demonstrated an impressive ability to put touch on his passes and work the deep sideline. He wasn’t Patrick Mahomes by any means, but Prescott was a solid deep passer for the majority of the season.

Throwing eight interceptions in 16 games is pretty good, but the film shows that Prescott wasn’t at fault for half of his interceptions. Dak suffered a ridiculous amount of bad luck with tipped passes, as four of his eight interceptions hit his receivers’ hands before becoming turnovers.

None of this is to say that Prescott is a perfect quarterback. Dak can still improve his game, particularly with his deep ball velocity. As previously mentioned, Prescott excels at throwing touch passes down the sideline. However, he tends to sail passes whenever he tries to throw a dart downfield. This is a bad trait, but it’s hardly enough to prevent him from being a franchise quarterback. On top of that, Prescott still needs to work on his red zone efficiency.

The Advanced Stats

The best way to judge quarterback play is by utilizing all resources available. The film shows that Prescott is an above-average quarterback, and the advanced analytics back that up. According to PlayerProfiler, Prescott finished the year with the 12th-most “money throws”. Player Profiler defines Money Throws as “a pass requiring exceptional skill or athleticism as well as critical throws executed in clutch moments.” While this is a somewhat subjective statistic, Prescott’s rating shows that he makes big plays when the game’s on the line. Additionally, Prescott finished the year ranked 18th in adjusted yards per attempt and 17th in interceptable passes (a higher ranking is preferred in this case).

These numbers imply that Prescott was an average to above-average quarterback in 2018. However, that’s not accounting for the addition of Amari Cooper. The Cowboys started the year with one of the worst wide receiver depth charts in the league and the lack of talent clearly affected Prescott. However, Prescott and the offense transformed when Cooper joined the team.

Over the final nine games of the season, Prescott completed 71.25% of his passes for 2,468 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions. His 103.0 passer rating was the ninth-best in the league while his 8.03 adjusted yards per attempt ranked 11th. Sharp Football Stats tells a similar story, as Prescott’s 49% passing success rate with Cooper was the 10th-best mark in the league.

Perhaps the best thing about Prescott is that his performance is completely unrelated to the running game. Contrary to popular belief, Prescott is more than capable of carrying an offense when the run game isn’t working. Paying Prescott might mean that Ezekiel Elliott has to leave, but replacing Elliott is significantly easier than replacing Prescott.

The Money

Signing Dak Prescott to a long-term deal won’t be cheap, and it obviously affects the overall team-building process. However, the longer the team waits, the more expensive Dak becomes. Jared Goff still needs to get paid, and his contract will likely eclipse Wentz. Similarly, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and Baker Mayfield all need to get paid in the not-too-distant future. As these players get paid, Prescott will look for a contract that exceeds or matches his peers.

$30 million a year for any one player sounds like a lot of money, but it’s easy to build a roster around that figure. Cap space is constantly increasing, and Dallas can easily pay Dak while constructing a competent roster. For example, if the cap increases as expected, Carson Wentz will only take up 12-13% of all available cap space. For a quarterback of his caliber, that’s a deal you make every time.

Dak is in the same boat. Theoretically, the Cowboys could have him play 2019 on his rookie contract and franchise him in 2020. However, doing that only drives up Prescott’s final price. Dallas already made this mistake by not paying Demarcus Lawrence after 2017, and doing it again with Prescott will only cause more financial hardship. When you have your quarterback, the smart thing to do is pay him before he hits the market. The Cowboys have their quarterback, now all they have to do is get the deal done.

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