Dak Prescott’s heartbreaking and devastating injury from Sunday is going to probably have major effects on the Dallas Cowboys’ season. However, today we turn our eyes to the effect his injury will have on every organization in the league.
First and foremost, Dak Prescott’s injury was terrifying and heart-breaking and all of our hearts go out to him and his family. The NFL is better with Dak in it, and we are hoping for a speedy recovery for him and are looking forward to his potential 2021 MVP campaign. Dak’s health, both physical and mental, is the most important issue surrounding this horrible situation.
However, this injury does have some serious effects on the entirety of the NFL besides just the absence of Dak Prescott and the Cowboys likely struggling even more in 2020. It likely will affect every contract and extension negotiation for the foreseeable future, and may even finally result in a more player-friendly narrative amongst NFL fans.
If you have even turned on ESPN and FS1 or listened to any sports radio at all then you know that Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys’ owner and general manager Jerry Jones have been working through contract negotiations for nearly two years now. Rumors have flown around about who wants what, how much money Dak wants, and how much money Jones is willing to pay, quite a few questionable things have been said, mostly by Jones, and overall it is a messy situation.
The Cowboys notably had another contract situation come up last season with Ezekiel Elliot, who threatened to hold out and actually missed the entirety of the team’s offseason and preseason camps in pursuit of a new deal. Jones’ mouth almost got himself when he asked “Zeke who” when directly asked about the Ezekiel Elliot situation during a radio interview. Elliot looked ready to stay on a beach and wait out the last two years of his contract when Jones and Elliot finally came to an agreement on a long-term contract.
This year, Prescott is playing on the franchise tag, a deal that put about 31 million dollars in Dak’s pocket late this offseason, and gives the two parties the rest of the 2020 season to negotiate a contract before Dak becomes an undrafted free agent this offseason.
Reportedly, he is either wanting 45 million a year on his long term contract or rejected a contract worth 45 million dollars yearly, so this extra time to negotiate was important, especially in the era of The Virus and all of the economic questions that it provides. Certainly, his number has changed significantly after the Kansas City Chiefs made Patrick Mahomes worth half a billion dollars and the Houston Texans locked down Deshaun Watson.
And just like that, all of that is thrown into complete disarray.
According to a report from Adam Schefter during halftime of this week’s Monday Night Football broadcast, Dak’s injury will take six to nine months to recover from, meaning that it is indeed a season-ending injury. On the bright side, it is not career-ending like many reactionaries with zero medical experience immediately posted on Twitter, but on the other hand, it keeps Dak off the field when he needed to be there most.
Dak was having an MVP level season in 2020, and if it were not for the fact that his defense could not stop a team of caffeinated toddlers, we may have been talking about the Cowboys as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. With that performance, Dak was accruing quite a bit of leverage that was certainly going to put a few extra million dollars on his contract, no matter where that contract was negotiated.
However, that potential MVP campaign is over, the prove yourself/earn the money season is gone, and even if the ankle injury is not career-altering, it will put a major question mark in the head of any GM who sits across from Dak. There is now plenty of uncertainty in Dak’s future with the Cowboys and in the NFL as a whole (I can not help but think that he would be a great Patriot, barring the whole wanting to be paid a fair contract thing).
We have seen this issue countless times over the last few seasons, all with varying approaches and results. A situation very similar to Dak’s is Earl Thomas’s 2018 season with the Seattle Seahawks.
Thomas actually started the 2018 season holding out, even missing Week 1, and although he made his way back to the team in time for Week 2, he would continue to miss practices and leverage his participation in team activities on the continuation of contract negotiations.
He had been a central part of the Seattle defense since being drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, although in 2018 he stood as the last remaining member of the legendary “Legion of Boom.” He had grabbed three interceptions and five pass breakups in only four games and looked like he may have a legitimate claim to defensive player of the year.
Then, in Week 5, Earl Thomas suffered a lower leg fracture in his left leg, ending not only his season but also severing all contract negotiations and sending Earl Thomas into a free agency loaded with safeties. Many may remember this incident based on the now-infamous picture of Thomas being carted off of the field while flipping the bird to the Seahawks sideline, a symbol not of his frustration with his teammates and coaches, but instead the organization and it’s handling of the business side.
This left Thomas in not only a dark place mentally, but also under the assumption that he would have to take a cheap “prove yourself” type deal in the 2019 free agency market. He originally intended to sing that deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, but was shocked and surprised the league when he signed a four-year, $55 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. This put Earl Thomas’ career back on track and should have helped him push forward into his veteran years (although we now know how that fared).
Players have been put into these situations time and time again and it is inevitable that it will happen again and again in the future. However, with the severity and magnitude of Dak Prescott’s situation, one has to wonder how this will affect the future of contract negotiations between players nearing the end of their contracts and the organizations they play for.
On the business side of things, it will give general managers and owners more evidence and reason to not pay players early. Injuries are unavoidable, sudden, and devastating, costing franchise tens of millions of dollars, and why risk losing that much money when you could instead just finish out the rest of their team-friendly deals? It just may be not worth the risk, and the executives of these teams have just been served a fresh reminder for this reality.
On the other hand, players know better the risk of playing the game without guaranteed money and have evidence fresh on the brain to back that up. The players’ bodies are their livelihood – if they can not play the game, they can not make money – and every down of football that they play, every moment they spend on the field serves to potentially ruin that for them. A QB sneak could result in a freak knee injury, a second down scramble could result in a leg completely broken in half, a third-down rush would turn your ankle all the way around, and any one of those injuries inevitably will cost the player money.
Even injuries that do not keep players on the shelf for very long can still have serious long-term effects on the body and future contracts, meaning even less money in the athlete’s pockets. So why put yourself in a position to take those kinds of risks when they compromise your safety and the well-being of yourself and your family? Why not hold out and use your leverage, (your play, your image, your presence) to put pressure on the organization’s upper management to make a deal happen?
Sure, some of these holdouts have resulted in negative outcomes for the players (Leveon Bell, Melvin Gordon) but that largely has to do with the current narrative that many fans have about holdouts and players’ pay. However, now that the quarterback of “America’s team” has been in a similar situation and been horribly injured, hopefully we can start making progress towards changing that narrative as well.
Overall the situation is going to make all upcoming contract negotiations even more complicated and messy. However, we should not let that overshadow the tragedy that is Prescott’s injury and our hopes for his speedy recovery.