Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is in the final year of his contract. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 40 years old. And with each passing season, it gets more and more expensive for each of these teams to keep their loaded rosters intact.
Dallas and New Orleans are both stacked with young talent, thanks to some all-time great draft classes from 2014 to 2017. But both teams are running out of time to win while they can afford to keep everyone.
The Cowboys already have signed DeMarcus Lawrence, La’el Collins, Jaylon Smith and Ezekiel Elliott to long-term extensions worth a total of $185.5 million in guaranteed money. That’s more than the $140 million owner and general manager Jerry Jones paid to acquire the entire franchise and Texas Stadium in 1989.
The Saints, meanwhile, signed All-Pros Cameron Jordan and Michael Thomas to extensions this offseason that were each worth nearly $20 million per year. And there are plenty more to come for both teams.
Here’s a look at the futures and finances hanging in the balance as the Cowboys (3-0) and Saints (2-1) jockey for playoff position on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:
Does his price go up each week? Would it have gone down if Prescott did not get off to this fast start (70-of-94, 920 yards, 9 TDs, 2 INTs)? The Cowboys made an offer in the summer that would have put Prescott among the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, and Prescott has so far been able to hold off on agreeing to a deal that would likely guarantee him $100 million or more. Prescott has seen other 2016 draft class quarterbacks — Jared Goff and Carson Wentz — sign extensions this summer worth $33.5 million and $32 million, respectively, but could be seeking more, especially since he’s off to such a hot start. The Cowboys would like to get an extension done sooner rather than later if for no other reason than to avoid the possibility of having to use the franchise tag next offseason, but Prescott appears willing to take this gamble. So far it’s a gamble that looks like it will pay off. — Todd Archer
Turns out, Brees is human. He missed just his second game because of injury since high school — and he should be out for at least another month while recovering from thumb surgery. Luckily for the Saints, Brees hasn’t even bothered to pretend he would consider signing with another team over the past few years, and his current deal is a downright bargain at $25 million per year. So the fact that his contract expires after this season isn’t really an issue. But Brees has essentially described himself as playing on a “year-to-year” basis at this stage of his career. So there is always the looming question of how much longer he’ll keep chasing a second Super Bowl title. — Mike Triplett
Yet another quarterback in the final year of his contract — but Bridgewater is the one who might switch teams in the offseason. A wide variety of outcomes is possible for the 2014 first-round draft pick, who appears to have recovered from a devastating 2016 knee injury. If he thrives during Brees’ absence, the Saints might do everything in their power to make him the heir apparent. Or they could lose him in a bidding war on the open market. Or, if he fizzles during this high-profile audition, the Saints might turn to backup Taysom Hill. And Bridgewater might find a free-agent market even less inviting than last year’s, when the Miami Dolphins were his only other suitor. — Triplett
Ryan Clark gives his top five in the NFL Power Rankings and the teams include the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys, Packers and Rams.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett
Nobody with the Cowboys has more to prove this year than the head coach. Even though Garrett led the Cowboys to the playoffs last season after a 3-5 start, Jerry Jones opted not to give him a contract extension. It’s 2014 all over again. Garrett went into that season without a contract for 2015 and produced a 12-4 record that earned him a five-year, $30 million contract. The Sean Payton rumors can now be put to rest after he recently signed a five-year extension with the Saints. But Garrett’s future will continue to be a hot topic. Jones has publicly backed him, but not with an extension, leading to a great hypothetical: What if the Cowboys win it all and Garrett is a free-agent coach? His leverage would never be higher. — Archer
Kamara will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason. And considering he’s on pace for his third straight season with 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage and 13-plus touchdowns, it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll hold out like Thomas did this past summer. Kamara is extremely important to the Saints (he was their go-to guy with more than half of the offensive touches in their first game without Brees). But this will be a fascinating test case, since New Orleans has more than $27 million in dead money counting against the salary cap next year and can’t afford to pay everybody. The running back position is the most polarizing financial decision in the NFL, and Kamara’s next deal will have to be in the neighborhood of Elliott’s $15 million per year, if not more. — Triplett
While there is apparent urgency to get a deal done with Prescott, the situation does not appear to be the same with Cooper. But most of that seems to come more from the receiver’s point of view than the team’s. It’s easy to sit back when you’re making $13.9 million this season. When the Cowboys gave up their 2019 first-rounder to the Oakland Raiders for Cooper last October, they expected him to be a long-term answer — not a short-term fix. Cooper has done nothing but produce — 10 touchdowns in 12 games — and his chemistry with Prescott was apparent almost from the beginning. The Saints signed Thomas to a deal averaging $19.25 million in the offseason. Given Cooper’s production, his deal will at least approach that figure. — Archer
The Saints get to wait another year or two on Lattimore since he was a first-round draft pick in 2017 and they hold a fifth-year option in 2021. He could try to force their hand with a holdout sooner. But both sides might want to wait, since Lattimore has been battling inconsistency to start this season. He needs to reestablish himself as the type of lock-down corner that he seemed destined to become when he won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and made the Pro Bowl two years ago. If he does, he could top Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard’s current record of $15.05 million per year. — Triplett
After the Cowboys made deals with Lawrence, Smith, Elliott and Collins — and have megadeals coming for Prescott and Cooper — is there enough left for Jones? From appearances, he looks to be the odd man out when it comes to the salary cap. Jones, who made the Pro Bowl last season, could simply be priced too high if he hits the open market. But then again, as he accepted the defensive MVP award at the kickoff banquet in August, he praised passing game coordinator Kris Richard for saving his career. Perhaps there is a way to keep him in the budget as well. — Archer
Saints offensive line
Dallas might be the only team that has invested more in its offensive line in recent years than New Orleans. But Pro Bowl left guard Andrus Peat will be a free agent after this season, Pro Bowl right guard Larry Warford is signed through 2020 and second-team All-Pro tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are under team control through 2021. It’s hard to imagine the Saints will reinvest in both guards over the next two years, so Peat is a potential cap casualty this offseason. Ramczyk is probably the top priority of the group as the youngest with the most long-term upside. He could easily become the game’s highest-paid right tackle in a couple of years. — Triplett