DALLAS, Texas -- Dak Prescott has his No. 1 receiver in place again, and of course, the star running back who signed a big contract last summer.
The question is whether the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys will play under the franchise tag or get his own long-term deal to go with those handed out to Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott.
The biggest moves so far this off-season for the Cowboys have been placing the roughly $31.5 million tag on Prescott and re-signing Cooper on a $100 million, five-year contract that makes him the second-highest paid receiver ($20 million average per season) behind Atlanta’s Julio Jones ($22 million).
Before inking his deal, Cooper was set to become an unrestricted free agent because the Cowboys had to use the franchise tag on Prescott.
Dallas traded a first-round pick to get Cooper from Oakland midseason in 2018, and his addition did wonders for Prescott and the offense. But Cooper’s production tailed off in the second half of his first full season with the Cowboys as an underachieving team missed the playoffs.
The 25-year-old Cooper has 5,097 yards receiving and 33 touchdowns in five seasons. He was the fourth overall pick in 2015 by the Raiders. The $20 million average per season for Cooper is second to Atlanta’s Julio Jones ($22 million).
The exclusive tag on Prescott means the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year can’t negotiate with other teams, but he’ll have to sign the lucrative one-year tender before he can start working with new coach Mike McCarthy.
The Cowboys have almost an entirely new coaching staff after underachieving and missing the playoffs in the last of nine full seasons under Jason Garrett. Thus, there’s plenty of urgency to get Prescott’s contract situation settled.
While the coronavirus has created uncertainly for the NFL’s off-season, it’s also buying the Cowboys more time to reach a deal with Prescott. The sides have until July 15, but Dallas wants the two-time Pro Bowler in the building long before that.
Elliott was the focus of all the contract questions last summer, when the two-time rushing champion held out all of training camp. He signed a $90 million, six-year contract days before the start of the regular season.
The Cowboys knew they would be busy in free agency this year because they had 24 potential unrestricted free agents, including several defensive starters.
Most of those players are gone, headlined by cornerback Byron Jones agreeing with Miami on a huge contract the Cowboys simply couldn’t afford. Productive defensive end Robert Quinn chose Chicago.
Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and safety Jeff Heath are headed to the Las Vegas Raiders along with tight end Jason Witten, whose distinguished Dallas career likely ends with a bushel of club records, including seasons (16), catches (1,215) and yards receiving (12,977).
With the three-year starter Heath's departure, the Cowboys added safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in a move that was announced Friday. Clinton-Dix is a familiar name for McCarthy.
McCarthy was the coach in Green Bay when the Packers drafted Clinton-Dix 21st overall in 2014. He had 14 of his 16 career interceptions with Green Bay, including a career-high five in 2016. The Packers traded him to Washington during the 2018 season, and Clinton-Dix spent last year in Chicago.
The 27-year-old’s addition comes at a position the Cowboys have largely ignored in free agency and the draft in recent years.
Clinton-Dix could start alongside Xavier Woods, although the Cowboys could target another safety in the middle of the first round of the draft.
Dallas hopes to counter the key losses on defense with the expected signing of a pair of veterans in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Maurice Canady.
The Cowboys also are bringing back linebacker Sean Lee for an 11th season, along with cornerback Anthony Brown and safety Darian Thompson.
Dallas is in the market for a slot receiver after losing its top option for the second straight year. Randall Cobb is set to join Houston after Cole Beasley went to Buffalo last year.
Kicker Kai Forbath is returning on a one-year deal after making all 10 kicks when he was brought in to replace the shaky Brett Maher. The club also is planning to re-sign long snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who is set to match Witten’s club record of 16 seasons.
The Cowboys had signaled the end of the Witten era before he chose to join the Raiders by signing fourth-year player Blake Jarwin to a four-year contract.