The devastating leg injury Dak Prescott suffered last Sunday not only alters his playing career, but it questions what is next for him financially.

The Dallas Cowboys grew unwilling to sign their quarterback Dak Prescott to a contract extension this past offseason. This was nothing new for him to experience though, as it was the second consecutive season where the two sides could not come to an agreement on the logistics of a new deal.

What happens after negotiations aren’t brought to fruition? The franchise tag; a year-long designation, in which the player who signs it is bound to the club for a year before they are set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Prescott signed that tender on June 22, earning $31.4 million for the 2020 season alone. While it was indeed a massive payday, a franchise tag is never the goal, especially for the caliber type player that is Dak Prescott. He wants, and deserves, a max contract, and his goal was to use the 2020 season as a chance to prove his worth.

He was doing that and more throughout the first four games.

Despite a 1-3 record for the Cowboys, the individual statistics for Prescott this season mimicked the career year he was hoping to execute. A 68% completion rate throughout those four matchups. A total of nine touchdown passes. An average quarterback rating of 102.1. A-league-leading 1,690 passing yards, which was on pace to beat Peyton Manning’s 2013 regular season record of 5,477 passing yards by an incredible 1,400-yard margin.

Then week 5 happened.

In a matchup against the New York Giants, Prescott was leading his team down the field and reached the red zone early in the third quarter. While scrambling outside the pocket, Giants’ defensive back Logan Ryan tackled Prescott and the quarterback landed awkwardly. His right foot was caught on the turf of AT&T Stadium, and his ankle got twisted enough to where it was dislocated on contact. Fans also were made aware that Prescott suffered a compound fracture, similar to the leg injury that Redskins’ quarterback Alex Smith suffered in 2018.

Prescott was carted off the field with tears in his eyes. Nevertheless, the team, and Prescott, remain optimistic. Placed on injured reserve, the recovery time that was given for the injury was four to six months. The former fourth-round pick has remained vocal on social media, stating that he believes he will be back “stronger and better than ever.”

Along with this buoyancy from both parties, the organization has also made it known that they intend on continuing to have conversations with Prescott about an extension despite the injury.

“How much we believe in him, how much we’re going to miss him, but at the same time know that he’s going to come back better, stronger, better than ever. He’s the face of our franchise and to have him and know that he’ll overcome this. He’s a driven, special man,” said team executive Stephen Jones.

Certainly, all football fans are hoping for the best. Not only based on his talent, but his positive attitude as well, people see the foundation of a guy like Prescott and are influenced to root for him. However, when expecting the worst, fans are left observing and dissecting an inevitable sin within football economics; the despised franchise tag.

When looking at the franchise tag from a surface level, it seems to favor the player. The reason for this is because it generally leads to a pay raise based on their previous annual salary, as most franchise tags that are handed out by organizations are expensive.

The issue, though, is that these tenders are expensive to a team for only a single year. What this does is give teams the ability to restrict players from securing more guaranteed money, a characteristic that comes from a long-term deal. The franchise tag keeps NFL players from making what they are truly worth; they only favor the organizations which are worth millions of dollars.

Some will argue that these players are making far more than the average American citizen and have no right to complain about finances. The discussion of the oversaturation of athletes is a different discussion, but at the end of the day, athletes will fight for what they believe they are worth based on market value, and in the NFL, that right is an important attribute.

Football is often considered the most violent sport in the country and perhaps the entire world. Not only do the values of the game represent a level of brutality that leads to injury during competition, but studies have proven that it also leads to long-term deterioration of the brain and body. Competitors who compete in this sport at the highest level need to make sure that the risk of playing is met with a worthwhile reward.

The franchise tag doesn’t provide that security blanket, and Dak’s injury shows this.

While there lies confidence in Prescott returning healthy, the worst-case scenario for him is not being able to step on a professional field ever again. If that ends up being the case, what is next for him? Coming off a franchise tag means a seriously injured player won’t have guaranteed money during rehabilitation. This is why reaching an agreement for a long-term deal is so essential for players – to avoid the scenario Dak Prescott is currently facing.

The Alex Smith injury is the perfect example of this. When Smith was traded to Washington, his first objective was to sign a contract extension with them. He agreed to a four-year, $94 million extension with them in 2018, and that was the same year he suffered the fracture of his tibia and fibula. While he was miraculously able to return to the field this past weekend, it was an injury that was expected to end his career. And while from a human level his inability to compete was heartbreaking, he at least had guaranteed money from his extension to fall back on. That coverage is something all NFL players should have the right to obtain.

And how much faith should we give the Cowboys when they say they want to resign him? They had two years to offer him a lucrative deal. Why would they suddenly shift their negotiations to favor Dak when they can’t be certain how he will adapt following recovery if he recovers at all? 

Perhaps Dallas enters those talks with a sympathetic approach. The business of the NFL, however, has proven to be ruthless. Evidence of this comes from the mere fact that fully guaranteed contracts fail to exist in the league, an approach that has left several former players bankrupt due to several factors ranging from a small earnings window to a lack of financial knowledge. In fact, Sports Illustrated once noted that 78 percent of NFL players file for bankruptcy within two years of retirement.

The odds are now certainly against Prescott. Hope shall remain for the 27-year old, as it is more than feasible for him to return and continue playing at a Hall-of-Fame level. But the weight on his shoulders that may stop him from propelling into that role again is due to a flawed financial agreement that heavily favors one side over the other. It is time for the players association and the CBA to make a stand that fights against such partisanship.