$.01--All the Dak drama in Dallas is now over. The Cowboys signed franchise QB Dak Prescott to a massive new contract on Monday.
Prescott will earn $160 million over four years, with $126 million fully guaranteed at signing. That’s the second-richest NFL contract per year in history, trailing only Patrick Mahomes.
No more drama. No more questioning Jerry Jones’ commitment to his quarterback. No more franchise tag needed. All eggs are now in the Dak basket.
It’s a substantial risk by Jones and the Cowboys, one most expected them not to make. Prescott pulled in more money than expected, more years than expected and did so despite coming off a grotesque injury that ended his season after just five games.
The injury might have forced the issue, ironically enough. Seeing what life without Dak is like certainly played a role in Jones’ epiphany that the Cowboys are better with him long-term than without. If the Cowboys go through 2020 with Dak for 16 games, finish 8-8 and lose in the first round of the playoffs, I’m not sure Dallas realizes just how valuable--$40M a year--Prescott is to the team’s success. If Andy Dalton plays better, if Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert don’t lay ostrich eggs in their brief shots, does Prescott earn the lofty contract and the trust of the organziation? Probably not.
Now the pressure is on Prescott to elevate his game. He’s been good throughout his five seasons, but he’s yet to show he cna consistently perform as a top-shelf QB. The lens now changes on how Prescott will be viewed and treated by both fans and the media. Being the No. 2 highest-paid quarterback dictates that Prescott can’t be somewhere in the 6-12 overall range and be accepted anymore. That’s the price that comes for Prescott along with the lucrative riches.
$.02--The Cowboys avoided using the franchise tag for a second straight season on the same player, but the NFC East rival Football Team could not escape that costly fate. Washington tagged right guard Brandon Scherff for a second straight season.
Scherff took advantage of the NFL’s own loophole, the ridiculous way in which the NFL refuses to divide up offensive tackles from interior offensive linemen. Scherff is one of the best guards in the league, no doubt about it. But now the WFT has to pay him like he’s an elite tackle. In fact, Scherff will be (at least temporarily) the highest-paid lineman in the NFL at just over $18M--all fully guaranteed and cash.
The NFL has a real issue with not differentiating between tackles and interior linemen. In this case, it damaged their club to the great delight of one very rich guard. Scherff will earn over $6M more than any other guard in 2021. He’ll earn nearly $2M more than the top-paid tackle, Laremy Tunsil. Some of that is a function of Scherff being tagged twice and getting the requisite raise for the second tagging, but who can blame him for not agreeing to a long-term deal?
The NFL set it up so Scherff would be foolish to take a deal. He’s not getting $18M in 2021 on the open market. He might draw half that in a year where the cap is lowered. And the best part for Scherff is he gets to test the market again next year, when the cap is expected to rocket upward and more teams can bid higher dollars for his services.
Scherff is the unquestioned winner of the franchise tag period.
$.03--One player who didn’t get tagged is Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay. Or should I say, ex-Lions receiver Kenny Golladay.
Detroit is at the very beginning stages of a radical overhaul of the franchise. Everything from one year ago is different. New owner, check (Sheila Ford Hamp is the former owner’s daughter). New GM in Brad Holmes, check. Gutted front office and executive staff, check. New head coach in Dan Campbell, a kneecap-biting check there too.
Matthew Stafford is also gone, and with Stafford’s departure went any sane reason for keeping Golladay in Detroit. Golladay and Stafford had a symbiotic relationship that brought out the best in each player. Stafford is one of the best in the NFL at fitting downfield throws into tight windows and putting the ball where his receiver can get the best play on it. Golladay is almost never actually open, but Stafford didn’t mind; No. 9 found a way to get the ball to No. 19, and Golladay made some fantastic catches in traffic and at odd angles that other wideouts can’t even fathom.
But not every QB has the testicular fortitude of Stafford to throw the ball to a covered receiver. And since Golladay isn’t likely to start getting more open, not having Stafford in Detroit severely crimped his potential with the Lions. Golladay averages the smallest separation per route run in the NFL over the last two seasons and it’s readily apparent on game film. Unless the defender falls down or gets confused, Golladay is fairly easy to “cover”. He is not fairly easy to stop, however, and some of that credit belongs to Stafford and the Lions’ willingness to make it work.
Now Detroit’s QB, once the mega-trade is completed on March 17th, is Jared Goff. He and Golladay working together is like the weird season on the Dukes of Hazzard where they brought in replacements for Bo and Luke and tried to sell it as the same awesome show from my childhood. Coy and Vance weren’t horrible, but it wasn’t the same. The magic just wasn’t there anymore. That’s Golladay in Detroit without Stafford. And at the price Golladay wants, the Duke boys producers would never have been able to bring John Schneider and Tom Wopat back together again.
Golladay turned down extension offers last summer of at least $16M and perhaps as high as $18M. The franchise tag value was just $15.8. This is clearly a player looking to score one huge payout. He wants to ride off into the sunset with Daisy on his arm and doesn’t worry so much about where the car might be headed. And that’s perfectly fine. He deserves to capitalize on his opportunity. It’s not Christopher Mayer’s fault (he’s the actor who played Vance) that Wopat held out for more money, he took his shot. Golladay represents both Luke and Vance Duke, and I hope he gets Wopat money. The Lions receiving corps without him looks like the low-budget spinoff right now, but they’re not in a place to pay for a premium talent right now. Another team will be, and Golladay will get a chance to prove he can make it work with a different quarterback and a new team. I’m not sold that Golladay won’t disappoint relative to the expectations his new salary brings, but--as noted with Prescott--that’s the price of getting paid.
$.04--Quite a few other players did get franchise tagged by their teams. In most cases, the move made sense. Here are some of the notables:
Marcus Maye, Jets - He’s one of the best players at his position yet he’s largely anonymous to many fans despite playing in New York. The safety is the key to the Jets defense, which quietly played some decent football late in the year. He’s still a good candidate for a long-term deal, but the Jets absolutely couldn’t let Maye walk.
Allen Robinson, Bears - Robinson would have been the top WR on the market. He has shone in Chicago despite some shaky quarterback play, something he also battled in Jacksonville earlier in his career. Robinson is the Bears’ top offensive weapon and they don’t sniff a return trip to the postseason without his considerable talents. He’s worth every penny.
Justin Simmons, Broncos - The Broncos had no qualms about coming out and saying they intend to sign Simmons, a playmaking safety with remarkable consistency, to a long-term deal. They’re using the tag to buy more negotiating time. That’s one of the more underappreciated facets of the tag system. Denver fans nervously hope the team lives up to its work.
Taylor Moton, Panthers - Not the sexiest name, but Moton has emerged as one of the NFL’s best pass protectors at right tackle. He’s durable and getting better every season. Moton and the Panthers should try and work out a long-term deal; they’re better together than apart.
Cam Robinson, Jaguars - This one was a surprise to many, myself included. Robinson has shown some ability as a young offensive tackle, but he’s not proven irreplaceable in the Jaguars lineup. Then again, they have cap room and will bring in Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 pick, so why not?
Marcus Williams, Saints - Proving that the salary cap is more of an abstract suggestion than an actual punitive limit, the Saints managed to tag Williams despite being some $60M over the projected cap. They have to be under the new figure, likely in the $182M ballpark, on March 17th. Tagging Williams means they’ll say goodbye to some other valuable players, even with some contract restructures and creative accounting.
It’s worth noting that three safeties earned the tag, while no linebackers got tagged. It’s a growing affirmation that the back end of the defense is more important than the middle layer. It’s also an indication of the lack of trust in the safety class in the draft, which features a couple of players in the 25-50 overall range and a lot of question marks.
$.05--A tribute to Hope
On Saturday afternoon, the de facto D-III women's basketball championship played out as expected. Hope College defeated Trine to win the MIAA conference title and cement a perfect season. The Flying Dutch, No. 1 in the country for the entire year, did not lose a game. They did not lose a game last year, either. But they aren't officially 2-time NCAA D-III champions, unfortunately.
The NCAA will not hold a March Madness for D-III this year. Last year's tournament ended after Hope advanced to the Sweet 16 with a blowout win, which I happened to attend. It was the last sporting event not involving a family member I've been to, exactly one year ago. Hope has won 44 games in a row, not losing in two full seasons. Their last loss came in the 2019 NCAA tournament, a close loss in a terribly lopsided game by the officials which my family and I also attended.
Trine is the No. 3 team in the country and a bitter conference rival. Despite both schools being D-III, many of the ladies playing there had opportunities to play much higher up the college basketball ladder. Hope is a juggernaut, Trine an emerging and worthy contender. The games are high-quality basketball with a lot of talent on the floor. Hope's dominating win over the No. 3 team, even though played at home--with no fans--cements them as the top team in the country again. But they will never get the honor they deserve due to the pandemic.
The last year of life in the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for so many different reasons. Aside from the obvious health issue and ramifications, the mental toll has often been devastating. The foreclosure of so many dreams has been heartbreaking, mentally exhausting. It pains me that these young women and their coach, Brian Morehouse, won't get to cut down the nets after winning the national championship. Twice. Morehouse is a personal friend and as genuine of a person as you'll meet in college sports. One of the reasons Hope has been an elite program for decades is because of "Coach Mo" and the family atmosphere he's instilled here in Holland, MI. Most of the players are from the immediate area, within a couple of hour's drive. The families of the players are an extended basketball family. They go to road games together, vacation together, stay together even after the young women are no longer playing. To have that fantastic family not get the glory they've earned and worked so hard to achieve because of a largely political decision about an apolitical virus is difficult to reconcile.
The plight of some D-III athletes is nothing compared to people who have lost their lives, their loved ones, their businesses, their homes, all due to this terrible modern plague. It's not even close, and Morehouse himself will be the first to tell anyone that fact. There is no loss of perspective here on the significance of the situation. But it's a close experience for me and especially my daughter, an aspiring young basketball player who has attended Hope College camps since she started dribbling and has a mentor and a role model in Meg Morehouse, the coach's daughter and a reserve point guard for the Flying Dutch. We know the hours, the years, the sweat, the tears that went into each of these proud athletes becoming arguably the best D-III team of all-time. And they'll never get the chance to prove it. Those are the sorts of lost opportunities, faded dreams, tangental casualties of life as we've known it for the last year. These are the casualties that will largely be forgotten over time. Here's to Hope, and hope for the nightmarish loss of all that we know and hold dear ends soon.