FRISCO, Texas - At long last, the circled dates on the calendar are starting to pop up.
Tuesday marks the first truly important date on the NFL's 2021 calendar and the next step in the ongoing Dak Prescott saga that surrounds the Cowboys - the opening of the franchise tag window.
Feb. 23 is the first date that NFL clubs can place their league-appointed tags, the franchise tag and transition tag, on their impending free agents. Front offices across the league have two weeks to make these decisions, which puts the deadline to use a tag on March 9, exactly two weeks from today.
It sounds awfully dramatic, but it really isn't. Prescott is the top available free agent quarterback in the NFL, which means he's the top available free agent in the league. If he and the Cowboys can't come to an agreement on a contract extension by March 9, he will be franchise tagged for a second consecutive season.
Now, there could be a question about which tag they opt to use. NFL rules allow teams to use both an exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tag. The exclusive tag prevents the player in question from communicating with any other team, essentially locking him into another year of service. The non-exclusive tag allows the player to negotiate with other teams. If Prescott were to be given the non-exclusive tag and reach a deal with another club, the Cowboys would have the power to match the deal, or they'd receive two first-round draft picks as compensation for losing him.
Obviously, the importance of the quarterback position is such that the Cowboys will very likely use the exclusive tag, guaranteeing that Prescott can't play for anyone but them in 2021. They used the exclusive tag last year, and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones made it clear how he felt about letting Prescott walk away.
"I am not, in any way, going to not have his rights, for one minute," Jones said at the 2020 NFL Combine.
With all that in mind, the reality is clear: Prescott will either be locked in to a long-term contract extension by March 9, or he will be franchise tagged again - likely the exclusive tag, to the tune of $37.7 million.
The drama comes in with that first part. With two weeks until they need to use the tag, will there be any movement on contract talks that don't seem to have seen much progress since last July?
The early indication is that there will be. The Cowboys are reportedly eager to get a deal done before they must use the franchise tag, and they appear to be very confident in Prescott's recovery from the ankle injury that ended his 2020 season.
If this all sounds familiar, that's because it is. This is, after all, the third consecutive offseason that speculation has swirled about Prescott's future.
Starting now, though, there's officially a new deadline in sight. Time will tell if this one is any different.