Cowboys’ legend Darren Woodson on asking Dak Prescott to take less in free agency: ‘It’s a slap in the face’

Dak Prescott will eventually land a historic contract with the Dallas Cowboys that will make him the highest-paid player in franchise history. The only questions remaining are “when,” “for how long” and for “how much” specifically, and there are several variables in play as the two sides approach a franchise tag deadline of March 12 — delayed two days by hiccups in collective bargaining agreement negotiations — the Cowboys are acing to avoid having to utilize the tag on Prescott. Meanwhile, all manner of unsubstantiated rumors and/or speculation of a possible Prescott trade have emerged and those who aren’t talking about shipping the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback out of town are demanding he take less money to stay with the Cowboys. 

Emmitt Smith falls in the latter category, the Hall of Famer making it very clear he wants Prescott to walk away from any high offer he’s placed on the table and instead sign an extension that’s more team-friendly. 

“Dak has to understand and maybe take another perspective,” Smith told The Adam Lefkoe Show. “The perspective may not be all the money you get, but how much of the money you’re willing to leave on the table, because the Cowboys are a marketable organization. If you’re the face of the franchise, instead of taking $35 [million], would you take $28 [million], and leave some for Amari and pick up the [lost money] through endorsements.”

His former teammate, another Cowboys’ legend — Darren Woodson — vehemently disagrees, though. If anything, Woodson wants everyone to stop disrespecting Prescott with such talk, and pronto. 

“It’s a slap in the face for people to say he should take less,” Woodson said from his Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, via Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “That is a slap in that man’s face. They are not out here. I am watching every day. 

“My office oversees the practice field. And there ain’t nobody on that team that works harder than Dak Prescott. He is putting the work in. The man deserves it. 

“That is commitment.”

It bears mentioning Smith didn’t take his own advice in yesteryear, becoming the league’s highest-paid running back after an infamous absence in 1993 that led to an 0-2 start by the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones granting Smith the contract he wanted. In 2019, Smith also stated he’d open the checkbook for Ezekiel Elliott during the All-Pro’s holdout, which does introduce some positional bias into his statements, even if not intended. Elliott himself went on to land a historic, market-setting deal, and was immediately clear in how he’d like to see the Cowboys award Prescott his just dessert

So even Elliott doesn’t agree with Smith on this topic.

His stellar work ethic aside, Prescott was selected as a fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and has grossly outplayed his NFL earnings, making any suggestion he should reduce his free agency ask a weird one. His production has either met or exceeded the likes of 2016 draftmates Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, while operating under a four-year, non-negotiable rookie deal that’s paid him a maximum $2.7 million. 

For contrast, Goff and Wentz having been selected first- and second-overall, respectively, agreed to rookie contracts that amounted to 10 times the pay of Prescott, and both have since cashed in for massive new deals in 2019. Goff signed a four-year deal worth $134 million ($33.5 million average annual salary) with a record-setting $110 million in guaranteed money that bested what Wentz was awarded — four years, $128 million ($32 million AAS) with $107 million guaranteed. 

Prescott got a bit of aid previously by way of NFL performance boosts but still fell cavernously short of what Goff and Wentz pulled in financially, and all without missing a single start. The other two can’t lay claim to such durability. 

With Russell Wilson having set the market last spring, the framework was laid for Prescott to make his ask, and when he and the Cowboys couldn’t come to terms — he opted to bet on himself in 2019 on a $2.02 million salary and revisit talks this offseason. And despite the team finishing 8-8, Prescott had a banner year while battling also battling a shoulder injury in December, at one point playing at an MVP-caliber click during the season.

All told, Prescott is coming off of a career season and into a free agency market ripe with other top-tier QB talent set to reshape the entire financial landscape of the NFL, and also for a Cowboys team flush with cash to burn. Currently standing at a projected $80 million in cap space — per Over the Cap — they have the ability to flip a few switches and break the $100 million mark in cap space, and that’s more than enough to get a deal done with Prescott that isn’t supposedly “team-friendly”, with massive chunks of pie left over to do the same for Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Robert Quinn and whomever else they want to retain.

The operative word here, of course, being “want.”

So for those asking Prescott to take less when he’s already done just that by way of a bottom-paying rookie deal, and in a situation where the Cowboys are wealthier, cap-wise, than they’ve ever been under the existing CBA? 

“No, hell no,” Woodson said. “This is a capitalistic society. This is America. Why does he have to take less money? 

“We are not expecting others to take less money. We didn’t ask Carson Wentz to take less money. Why should Dak be the guy to take less money?”

And when it comes to Smith’s prediction of Prescott being able to make up the difference with endorsements because he’s the face of the Cowboys — which sounds oddly similar to the sales pitch used by the team’s front office to help secure a deal they found more palatable for linebacker Jaylon Smith in 2019 (hint) — Woodson says stop pretending the exact amount of potential endorsements is a finite and guaranteed figure. 

“That is not promised,” said the Ring of Honor inductee. “The off-the-field pay is not promised. Take what he deserves. If he deserves $35-38 million, he should be paid $35-38 million. 

“I think the man has earned it.”

Troy Aikman, a Hall of Famer and former teammate of both Smith and Woodson, has long sided with the latter on the matter.

“I say pay the man,” Aikman wrote in November of Prescott.

As Prescott and the Cowboys attempt to hammer out details like length of the new extension and guaranteed money, there is zero indication he’ll take less when neither he nor the team needs him to — even if they’d like him to believe that. Realistically speaking and fiery narratives aside, the Cowboys have built into their model the sizable sum they’re going to pay Prescott, and rightfully so, considering both the market and his play speak for themselves. 

Additionally, if a new CBA lands, the team will see a friendly bump in their already leviathan 2020 cap space, furthering the overall point of affordability. 

The bottom line is the Cowboys are all-in on keeping Prescott around and will eventually get their wish, and so will Prescott, financially, before it’s all said-and-done, with no harm done to the longterm financial blueprint of the team. And in two years, his new contract likely won’t even be in the top-5 at his position, making talk of a “team-friendly deal” ahead of a new CBA that much more of a moot point.

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