FRISCO, Texas – Dak Prescott peered down at the socially distanced crowd scattered throughout the chandelier-adorned atrium at the Star. He waved from a second-story window. Then he headed downstairs, emerged from the elevator and strode right foot after left across the entrance to Cowboys headquarters.
The contract was signed. The recovery prognosis optimistic. The brutal compound fracture and ankle dislocation he suffered Oct. 11 no longer dominated the quarterback’s conversation.
Literally and figuratively, Prescott might as well have been skipping.
“I thought about jogging out here and jumping on stage, but I don’t know if you all are ready for that,” Prescott joked in his first public comments since he was carted off the field at AT&T Stadium one day short of five months ago. “But I’m healthy.”
He’s also far richer.
The Cowboys and Prescott agreed Monday to a four-year, $160 million extension, two people with knowledge of the contract told USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity since the team doesn’t publicly disclose terms. Prescott is guaranteed $126 million, including an NFL-record $66 million signing bonus. In total, he’ll net $75 million in 2021 – more than double his collective salary across his first five professional seasons.
Negotiations were long and winding. Yes, they created polarizing perspectives and conversations about what Prescott was worth and whether the Cowboys valued him appropriately. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones insisted the lengthy discussion – this deal took two years to close, for those counting at home – was a matter of when, not if.
“We are keenly aware that the process … has created, if you will, a conversation and maybe even a life of its own,” Jones said Wednesday. “Don’t confuse that with how right we think this decision is.”
‘What are we waiting on?’
Deadlines had passed. The 2016 fourth-round selection had played each of the last two seasons on an expiring contract. A September 2019 deal that Jones described as “imminent” floundered; a July 15, 2020, negotiating deadline was conspicuously devoid of momentum.
Conversations between Prescott and agent Todd France continued this winter after Prescott’s surgeries, with videos of his rehab progress lighting up France’s phone. Cowboys rehabilitation director Britt Brown sent further notes. The 2020 season ended. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said France “beat me to the punch” with a recent call.
“At some point, there’s no reason to play games,” France said Wednesday. “It’s, what are we waiting on? What are we doing? Let me know so we can act appropriately and figure out our game plan and be proactive on our side versus just sitting back and waiting.”
Early in 2021, conversations between France and Jones heated up. Clarity was coming on a COVID revenue prognosis and looming TV deals. Prescott’s recovery, too, gave the Cowboys enough optimism to feel comfortable emptying their pockets. But both sides remained fairly quiet, even as Tuesday’s deadline to place a second franchise tag on Prescott – this one worth $37.7 million, all counting against a declining cap – loomed.
On Sunday and even early Monday, few outside the organization and Prescott’s inner circle were talking about imminent resolution. Yet internally, details were getting ironed out.
The Cowboys conceded that Prescott, who will turn 28 in July, could include no-trade and no-tag clauses that virtually ensure he controls his future after 2024. Prescott and France conceded that the Cowboys, with inside knowledge on TV deal negotiations, could tack on two voidable years to aid salary cap accounting for their most expensive contract in franchise history.
After one update from France, Prescott expressed the focus that convinced Jerry Jones his quarterback was strong enough to handle the mind-numbing negotiating road.
“I said I was in the training room this morning, working on my leg, and I am going to be there tomorrow,” Prescott recalled. “I am not really worried about that. I don’t get too excited.
“When God’s timing is for me, it will be for me.”
Monday, Prescott sensed it was. This time felt different, said Prescott, who told France to text him an update.
France called instead. The Prescott family embraced.
The deal was agreeable. Head-space freed, Prescott said. He cashed in with a lucrative contract and could return to the table to negotiate again in as soon as three years – all three of which he’ll average $42 million in paydays before his 31st birthday.
After growing up in a trailer in small-town Louisiana, Prescott marveled at this generational wealth.
“Money has never been (what) I wake up for in the morning,” Prescott said. “That’s to chase and be the best quarterback and best individual I can be. … [But] it’s a blessing in my life where so many people are going to benefit. Generations of family.
“There’s a lot of little Daks and cousins that are going to benefit from this.”
Prescott’s immediate next steps are multifaceted. He’ll continue rehabilitation, which all are optimistic about. He’s walking comfortably and said he’s been working on the practice field at the Star. He declined to put a timeline on when he’ll consider himself 100% but celebrates daily the victories he didn’t achieve on the day prior.
“I’m healthy,” he said. “I’m getting close. I’ll be ready when it matters.”
He knows also that despite his success running the football – 1,314 yards, 24 touchdowns by ground in 69 regular-season games – he’ll need to choose carefully the risks he takes.
Beyond himself, Prescott said he’s bullish on the culture he wants to re-establish with the Cowboys. For the first time since 2018, he has multiyear security. He returns to a roster that finished 6-10 in 2020, hurt by injuries but also maladjusted to a COVID-year coaching change from Jason Garrett to Mike McCarthy.
The Cowboys’ defense ranked among the league’s worst, and ex-Falcons coach Dan Quinn replaced Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator for 2021. But offensively, the plummet after Prescott’s injury was steep. In five games with Prescott in 2020, the Cowboys averaged 32.6 points and 488 yards of offense. In 11 without him, they managed just 21.1 points and 319 yards.
“We got to make sure that we got our culture right,” Prescott said. “Make sure that those are guys that you can trust when everything hits the fan.”
Prescott’s leadership has never been questioned since his improbable rookie breakout in 2016. But knowing he’ll be here for the long haul strengthens the message he sends within the organization. Management eagerly awaits the potential it believes he has yet to unlock, with Jerry Jones lauding Prescott’s ability to adapt to an ever-changing game. Prescott has his eyes on a Super Bowl parade in Dallas for a team he believes should be the best in the NFC East.
He’s ready to partner with the Joneses to chase those goals.
Cowboys chief operating office Charlotte Jones joked to Prescott this week that once he signed, he “can’t get out.” Prescott doesn’t want to.
“I’m excited to be here, to never leave, and excited for what this organization, what this team, what the fans are going to get,” Prescott said. “Just to know that this is my home, I’m not leaving.
“I’m a Cowboy, and this is only the beginning.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.