There’s some creative bookkeeping going on with the Dallas Cowboys, and for good read reason. The team recently restructured the contract on All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, converting $8.9 million of his salary into a signing bonus, adding a voidable year to the deal and freeing up $7.12 million in cap space. They’ve now also restructured the deal on All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, freeing up another $8 million in space and leaving some to wonder what the sudden push for cash is truly for. Currently sitting at a projected $17.5 million in cap space for 2020, sources tell CBS Sports it’s not for a looming big name free agency signing.

It’s for Dak Prescott.

Just as the timing of Smith’s restructure with the release of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas from the Baltimore Ravens in August meant nothing in the realm of signing the latter, nor does the move on Martin’s money. The Cowboys remain interested in the controversial safety, per sources, but are also in an unmotivated hold pattern when it comes to him, particularly after signing former Dallas defensive back Brandon Carr — who also spent time at safety in Baltimore recently — in a move owner Jerry Jones labeled as “fortuitous” when asked about Thomas. In play with Carr is a level of ingenius flexibility thanks to the team’s maneuvering of the newfound 2020 practice squad rules, so while Thomas is still on their radar, it’s Prescott’s pockets they’re aiming for. 

Martin, who signed a six-year, $84 million contract extension in 2018, is willing to help in the cause. 

Does this mean nothing ever comes of the interest in Thomas? No, it does not, but it is to say that’s not the financial bullseye as they look ahead to a 2021 season that could see the salary cap decrease by roughly $20 million due to potential revenue losses driven by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With a cap floor already set at $175 million, it’s moving in the wrong direction for the first time in more than a decade, and at the wrong time for the Cowboys. Prescott, who is currently under a franchise tag that pays him $31.4 million in 2020, is set to earn $37.7 million under a second tag if he and the Cowboys whiff a third time on agreeing to a new deal.

The two sides made great progress in their second attempt this offseason and very nearly hammered out terms during a last-minute phone call on July 15 that simply didn’t beat the NFL’s buzzer, locking the two-time Pro Bowler into the tag for 2020.

With deals for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson having now landed, and with ones for Russell Wilson, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz having landed in 2019, the framework is basically set for Prescott — assuming the Cowboys ditch the five-year ask that derailed what would’ve been a fairly smooth negotiation this summer. Unlike the other QBs mentioned, Prescott’s rookie deal was allowed to expire without another in place and, as such, he stood firm on a traditional four-year ask to allow him to re-enter the market following renegotiated TV contracts and gambling revenues creating a spike in the salary cap.

Sources told CBS Sports in February talks were no longer mostly focused on money, but instead length of the deal, which proved accurate. The Cowboys initially went long and Prescott went short, but both very nearly met in the middle, if not for both having been so dug in when they got to they five- and four-year proposals, respectively. And with that, the Cowboys continue to affirm they’re “all in” on Prescott as he proclaims his belief he “will be a Cowboy for the rest of his career”

To make that happen, and especially after seeing the deal on Watson — arguably the final piece, unless the team also wants to contend with one falling out of the sky on league MVP Lamar Jackson — the current state of financial affairs is all about two things: keeping cash on hand for emergency in-season signing(s), and trying desperately to roll over as much money as possible to 2021 in the hopes of ending the Prescott contract saga. Team exec Stephen Jones couldn’t be more clear recently in the latter being his primary goal.

“We can ultimately get the deal done.”

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