With no deal in place, is Dak Prescott’s time in Dallas coming to an end?

As the National Football League’s main summer deadline passed on Wednesday, there were 12 players who found themselves locked in on the franchise tag – and precisely one whom everyone was talking about.

Dak Prescott’s deal-or-no-deal saga has rolled on for 18 months now, and after ultimate proof that there is no true consensus of his worth between the team and the player, there is a lot to unpack.

One certainty we now know is that Prescott is willing to back himself to the hilt. Another is that by doing so, he could land himself a stratospheric paycheck down the road, if things go smoothly. And the last, inevitably, is about how much longer he has in Dallas, with a future divorce now looking highly likely, if not inevitable.

“I’m a Cowboy and couldn’t be happier,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Wednesday night. “I look forward to working (alongside) coach (Mike) McCarthy, the staff, and my teammates to be the best team we can be in pursuit to our goal of a Super Bowl.”

That’s for now and the words are both admirable and appropriate. Prescott will, after all, make $31.4 million under the franchise tag, a steep rise from the $4 million combined that he made in his first four seasons. He’s not going to be poor, he’s no longer going to be significantly underpaid, and he will indeed be doing all he can to make the Cowboys shine.

However, having seen teammates like Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and several offensive linemen get paid at the top end of the current market rate, there is surely some lingering dissatisfaction that a new contract couldn’t get over the line.

He’s not going to say as much, but his brother Tad did, on Twitter.

“There is a reason I was never a Dallas Cowboys fan growing up or before they drafted Dak,” Tad Prescott wrote. “After today, who knows how much longer I’ll be cheering for them.”

According to the NFL Network, Prescott and his agent Todd France turned down a four-year extension worth at least $33 million per season and including $100 million in guarantees. After Patrick Mahomes locked in a blockbuster deal, Prescott wanted to be paid in excess of the Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers deals that were struck two years ago, and push himself past the $35 million mark.

That didn’t happen, and now Dallas might have missed their chance. Having gambled last year, and doing so again now, Prescott may have so much to gain from betting on himself next year that there is no amount of money that could snare him long-term.

“I believe that’s going to end up with Dak Prescott playing for a different team in 2022,” FOX Sports’ Nick Wright told Colin Cowherd on The Herd. “He’s now rolling the dice again. What makes sense to me is that he would do it one more time and position himself to be the most sought after free agent in NFL history.

“He will be 28 years old and a true free-and-clear free agent. It’s going to be a full-blown auction. He is going to end up becoming the richest player in NFL history.”

Here is how most NFL theorists now lean towards this playing out. Prescott plays on the franchise tag this season, then contract talks again get nowhere after the 2020 campaign. At that point, the following year’s franchise tag of around $37 million would be a figure the Cowboys could live with and Prescott would play it out, before diving headlong into the free agent market.

Talk of Prescott leaving Dallas is now everywhere. Cowboys fans, flushed with optimism prior to the deadline, struck a gloomier tone once it expired.

“I’m still holding out hope that they are feverishly negotiating as we speak,” FOX Sports’ Skip Bayless said on Undisputed as time ticked by on Wednesday.

Not so, apparently, or not feverishly enough.

“There is plenty of blame to go around for the impasse, but know this: This could be the beginning of a slow road to a divorce between the Cowboys and Prescott,” wrote ESPN.com’s Todd Archer.

Blame is a strange word to use in all of this. It is hard to blame the Cowboys for refusing to budge from their optimal value on a player. If there is blame to be meted out there, it needs to come later, if Prescott has shown that his top price now would actually have been a bargain.

Blaming Prescott for not signing is a non-starter. Since when do we hand out blame for an athlete backing themselves with such sincerity and confidence that they are prepared to leave eye-watering sums on the table?

It was a game within a game, but it’s not a blame-game. It was a drawn out game, a fascinating one, and – truth be told – occasionally felt like a never-ending one. It’s not over yet, but the seeds for a parting of ways have now been set and it is going to take a lot to knock that journey off course.