Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

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We’ve been teased with NFL football for a couple weeks now, but of course those games do little to satisfy the hunger of a football fan.

When last season ended, I wrote a Take 5 about not wanting to watch the Patriots and Rams in the Super Bowl. I did end up watching the game, at least through three quarters, and that was time I wish I could have back.

But absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Just weeks away from the season, I am already signed up for two fantasy football leagues (lightweight, I know), reading every bit of news I find and trying to project the Dallas Cowboys’ 53-man roster.

As we are seeing this season: Contract negotiations dominate storylines when the games don’t count.

What gets forgotten annually when talking about quarterback contracts — this time in regards to Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott — is that the conversation at the negotiating table doesn’t boil down to words like “deserve” or “earn.” Prescott is going to get a big deal because it’s his turn. It’s that simple. If you are a starting quarterback in the NFL and you are a team’s best option, you’re going to get a top-tier deal.

In 2013, then-Baltimore QB Joe Flacco signed the league’s largest contract at the time. He leapt over Drew Brees by more than $20 million in total value and restructured in 2016 to jump ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Flacco was never the best or most deserving player, not even for a day, but his turn came up and the Ravens saw him as their best chance to win. Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo have followed with big paydays, while only Wentz could be argued as a top-five QB and he can’t stay on the field.

Middle of the pack quarterbacks keep raking it in while running backs struggle to stave off extinction. The NFL Players Association reports that the average NFL career is about 3.3 years. For running backs it’s even shorter: About 2.5 years. RBs are being seen as interchangeable and replaceable, and their value is plummeting because of it.

To make matters worse, the NFL introduced the rookie wage scale in 2011. Before the implementation of the rookie wage scale, top picks signed contracts worth about $50-70 million or more. Those deals have dropped by more than half in value since. All rookies now sign a four-year contract with a fifth-year option for first rounders.

Remember the 2.5-year average career?

That means a player’s best performance years likely happen while he is handcuffed to a rookie contract. By the end of that contract, he could see his earning potential greatly diminished due to injury or team’s projecting his inevitable decline.

Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott are dealing with this right now. Both are being told they are replaceable while both have been workhorses for their respective teams. In a pass-heavy league, it’s no wonder why Le’Veon Bell wanted to be paid like a dual-threat, not a running back.

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Sure, we’re talking millions of dollars among millionaires, but the revenue generated by the league is on the backs of those players. They deserve their cut. Nobody is paying to see Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke sit in their luxury suites on Sundays.

Enough about money. Let’s talk some on the field business.

Everyone’s favorite quarterback Patrick Mahomes II has just what he needs to keep Kansas City’s offense up to par with last season’s: More speed. Rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the combine  tied for fifth fastest of the 2019 class  and that speed looks like it translates onto the field. Mahomes hasn’t played much this preseason but I can’t wait to see his encore.

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I might be in the minority of people that thought Daniel Jones would be a good quarterback pickup in the draft. After seeing him in the senior bowl last spring, I was interested. So far he has been what I had hoped  a fun player to watch in the preseason. That is it; IN THE PRESEASON. When reports came out about him going in the first round I was flabbergasted. I expected him to be playing in the third quarter of preseason games for somebody, not competing for a starting job. He only has to beat out Eli.

Iowa State alumni Allen Lazard is finally getting his opportunity. He was picked up by Green Bay and made the game day roster partway through last season, and seems to be catching on this year. He had three catches for 63 yards at Baltimore last week and scored a touchdown the week before. Cyclone fans and even Hawkeye fans like me were shocked to see him go undrafted. Hopefully, he can capture his moment.

The Brown and Raiders are headlining a lot of sports talk shows these days. What a strange world we live in.

Cleveland is one of the most popular Super Bowl bets being placed and has the talent to rise to relevance, but I’m hesitant to buy in on the Browns. I expect the team to be competitive and maybe stay in the mix late in the season. Still, a lot can go wrong and a lot is unknown. Just look at Cleveland’s division. Reports of Pittsburgh’s demise have been greatly exaggerated and the Ravens have added to a good defense. I wouldn’t buy my Super Bowl tickets quite yet, Browns fan.

My too-early predictions for this season: Pete Carrol chomps his gum too hard and Bill Belichick gets grumpy.

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