The Cowboys know there will be labor peace in the NFL for the next 11 years.
It’s the next 60 or so hours that remain uncertain.
Dak Prescott doesn’t have a contract. Neither does Amari Cooper. If the club doesn’t reach a long-term deal with one and tag the other by 10:59 Monday morning, the team’s offensive core could splinter.
Prescott isn’t going anywhere. Club officials have said that many times, many ways in recent months. There’s no question the Cowboys will use the franchise tag to prevent the quarterback from hitting the open market.
That puts the focus on Cooper.
More progress has been made in negotiations with his representatives in recent days than with Prescott, a source said. If the team is able to reach a long-term deal with one of the two by Monday morning, Cooper is the more likely.
This should come as no surprise. Several factors complicate reaching a deal with Prescott that don’t exist with Cooper. One is the size of the contract itself.
Atlanta’s Julio Jones leads all players at his position with an average salary of $22 million. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas is next at $19.2 million.
The Cowboys have an offer on the table to Prescott that averages in excess of $33 million. That hasn’t gotten a deal done.
Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr. has the highest practical guarantee of any receiver at $65 million.
The guarantee on the table to Prescott exceeds $105 million.
Does Cooper want a deal that averages more than Jones or gives him more guaranteed money than Beckham? There have been no rumblings that his expectations are to top the position in those categories as a prerequisite to sign.
Again, the sheer magnitude of what the Cowboys must do with Prescott makes it easier to strike a deal with Cooper before Monday’s deadline to apply the franchise tag.
Negotiations with the representatives for both players continued deep into the evening Sunday. The Cowboys, desperate to reach an agreement with at least one of the stars, will probably sweeten the deal that is closest to being done in the final hours in their quest to keep both off the free market.
That could put a little more in Cooper’s pocket.
Sources indicate the Cowboys will use the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott. That carries a price of $31.6 million but prevents any team from talking to the quarterback.
If the club unexpectedly reaches a deal with Prescott instead and needs to use the tag with Cooper, sources said that would be the non-exclusive tag. That allows other teams to negotiate with the receiver, but the Cowboys retain the right of first refusal and would acquire two first-round picks if they let Cooper walk.
The non-exclusive tag for Cooper is estimated to come in at $17.8 million.
One more point. Tennessee agreed to a four-year, $118 million deal with a guarantee of $91 million to keep quarterback Ryan Tannehill off the free agent market. That’s an average of $29.5 million. Reaction on social media was swift about how that impacts the Cowboys’ conversations with Prescott.
It doesn’t. Dallas’ offer has already exceeded what Tannehill received. His contract sets the floor.
Prescott’s sights are set on the ceiling.
The players vote that approved the new collective bargaining agreement and signaled a decade of labor peace was released Sunday morning. Later in the afternoon, the NFL office sent a memo to its teams stating the new league year would begin as scheduled. That means:
Franchise tag must be applied by 10:59 a.m. Monday.
Potential free agents can begin negotiating with every team in the league one minute later. That extends for 48 hours.
The league year begins Wednesday afternoon. That’s when the deals agreed to during its legal tampering period can be officially announced. That leads to another issue.
Optics. None of the other professional sports leagues are competing or conducting business because of the coronavirus outbreak. The NFL, along with its Players Association, determined in discussions Sunday that it’s more important to get their financial house in order than to delay the start of the league year.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be other delays.
The Cowboys are scheduled to begin their offseason program April 6. It’s difficult to envision that will happen given the current climate.
Look for the entire offseason schedule to be compressed. The extra sessions the Cowboys were accorded because they have a new coaching staff will probably be a casualty.
Those details will be worked out in the coming days. The focus at the moment is free agency.
The focus is on Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.
Catch David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) periodically throughout the offseason to discuss the latest Cowboys news.