Will Dak and Tua be where teams draw the line on quarterback contracts?


Contracts for two talented — but polarizing — passers loom over the offseason’s final weeks.

As the NFL offseason enters its final stretch, the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins are a pair of teams looking to rebound from disappointing early playoff exits. Both now find themselves in the unenviable position of having their starting quarterbacks — Dak Prescott and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively — on expiring contracts.

The situations are vastly different. The Cowboys have been hamstrung this offseason by Prescott’s $55 million cap hit in the final season of a $160 million mega-deal agreed to in 2021. A new pact with their quarterback would have allowed Dallas to be more active in free agency, but no such move was made ahead of time.

Given the exploding quarterback market, the Dolphins have little incentive to increase Tagovailoa’s earnings from the $23.2 million fifth-year option of his rookie contract. The Alabama product rightfully has his sights set on a raise, and he has reportedly already declined at least one offer from Miami.

Assuming both teams hope to maintain the relationships, why have extensions not yet happened? Raised expectations from a team that did pay their quarterback may be a factor.

Competent quarterback play isn’t getting any cheaper

In early May, the Detroit Lions signed Jared Goff — only three years removed from what seemed like career purgatory after the Los Angeles Rams moved on from him — to a four-year, $252 million extension. Goff’s $53 million annual value trails only Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals among quarterbacks.

Obviously, the rest of the league (including Dallas and Miami) hoped to see a lower contract number for Goff. His $170 million in guaranteed money is also problematic for team budgets due to required escrow payments to cover future salary.

It’s possible — potentially probable — that Goff’s contract will not age well. While his cap hits for the next two seasons are manageable, the first overall selection of the 2016 NFL Draft will count for almost $70 million of Detroit’s 2026 salary cap for his age-32 season. If the Lions do not win a Super Bowl in the next two seasons, Goff carries albatross potential for future roster building.

The Cowboys are now in the final season of what was then a market value contract for Prescott when signed in 2021. While they have made the playoffs each season of the pact, their combined playoff record is only 1-3. A Prescott extension runs the risk of simply continuing their current trend into the quarterback’s mid-thirties.

Tagovailoa underwhelmed in his only career playoff game, losing on the road to the Kansas City Chiefs in historically frigid conditions. The Dolphins will also need to consider his injury history in contract negotiations: Tagovailoa missed four regular season games and Miami’s Wild Card round playoff loss in 2022 while suffering multiple concussions.

Unfortunately for Dallas and Miami, their financial considerations are not limited just to the quarterback position.

Other mouths to feed

The Cowboys face uncertainty about Prescott’s future while wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has stayed away from the team this offseason. Lamb is set to play on a fifth-year option worth just under $18 million, but is seeking an extension that would pay him in line with the top receivers in the league as the price only goes up with time. Linebacker Micah Parsons is also now extension-eligible after completing his third season and should be the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player on his next deal.

Tagovailoa broke through in 2023, leading the league in passing yards while throwing to the NFL’s fastest (and now most expensive) group of wide receivers. The Dolphins are already navigating the second half of Tyreek Hill’s backloaded contract — which now has only the third-highest annual value for the position. On Thursday, Miami reportedly agreed to an extension with $76 million in guaranteed earnings for fourth-year deep threat Jaylen Waddle.

Detroit also gave a new deal to wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, worsening Dallas’ plight especially. Extensions for the wideout, Goff, and right tackle Penei Sewell represent more than $332 million in guaranteed money from the Lions — throwing water on the Cowboys’ current narrative that they simply cannot pay everyone (or anyone based on their lack of recent moves).

Should they fail to reach a new deal with their current starters, Dallas and Miami will be interested observers in the Minnesota Vikings this season. Rather than play in the predictably expensive market for injured starter Kirk Cousins, Minnesota allowed him to sign in free agency with the Atlanta Falcons (who may not actually plan for him to be their long-term starter). The Vikings’ gamble that rookie J.J. McCarthy can find quick success paired with superstar receiver Justin Jefferson (yet another top target seeking a new contract) will be interesting to watch.

Prediction

Both the Cowboys and Vikings know that it is not realistic to acquire an upgrade from Prescott or Tagovailoa.

Expect Tagovailoa and the Dolphins to come to an agreement this summer. Miami is too invested in the current roster to entertain a quarterback change — and is under heavy pressure to win a Super Bowl before the now-30-year-old Hill’s speed begins to decline. Having already experienced a major injury situation, Tagovailoa will eventually be receptive to the life-long security that comes with a second contract.

Prescott and the Cowboys are much more difficult to predict. The team is radiating serious “Last Dance” vibes heading into 2024. Head coach Mike McCarthy is also entering his last season under contract, while running back Ezekiel Elliott will return for one more stint with the team after spending 2023 with the New England Patriots. The Cowboys could see wholesale changes across the team next spring, especially if the season ends in another playoff disappointment.

Having already played a season under the franchise tag in 2020, Prescott is a perpetual wildcard in negotiations. Already with more than $161 million in career earnings, there is no evidence he will settle for less than the contract that he wants — or that the Cowboys intend to pay him as such.



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