First & 10: As Dak Prescott and other assorted vets report to training camp this weekend, our analysis of the big lingering story: An eventual extension for the QB is the right call for the Dallas Cowboys; plus Top 10 notes from The Star
1) WHAT TO DO WITH DAK? The Dallas Cowboys need to extend Dak Prescott's contract. They don’t have to. But they need to do so. And they need to do it as soon as possible after the 2020 season.
It’s nice that Cowboys COO Stephen Jones is optimistic about the odds of getting a long-term deal done. He’s going to need that optimism, because this deal needs to get this done. Prescott, along with the rest of the veterans, reported on Saturday to begin training camp.
For the past several days I’ve explored a future without Prescott, one that is unlikely, but possible, if the relationship between Prescott and the Cowboys breaks down in the coming months. It involved exploring four options:
In Part 2, I looked at the potential free-agent options that could replace Prescott after the 2020 season. The options aren’t great, but there is one name that stands out, and another that is already on the roster and just isn’t signed past this season.
In Part 3, I looked at the potential options in the 2021 NFL Draft that could replace Prescott, if the Cowboys have to go that direction.
And, in Part 4, I looked at the potential trade options for the Cowboys in 2021, and there is one intriguing name that won’t take you long to figure out. But it comes with A LOT of baggage.
Before I did my deep dive I was convinced that signing Prescott to a long-term contract was the right thing for the Cowboys to do. After my analysis, nothing has changed my mind.
Many want to boil this down to money, as in “Prescott isn’t worth the money.” First of all, if every NFL team followed that direction about every superstar that wanted a new contract, then practically none of them would get new contracts. Don’t boil this down to whether he’s ‘worth the money.’ You’re basing that on the past four years, not the future. And none of us have any idea what Prescott will do as a player, or with this team, in the future. We will only know if he’s worth, or not worth, the money once the contract is done.
That’s the risk in giving Prescott a long-term deal. You don’t know what the future holds. So the assessment is in the here and now. Is rolling the dice on handing Prescott a long-term deal a lower risk or a higher risk than the other scenarios I played out?
Do you want DiNucci or Thorson running the show next season? Both are inexperienced. They may not develop into NFL backups, much less starters. Don’t let anyone tell you that just ‘anyone’ can run this Cowboys offense. Not everyone can. And, right now, neither can. Do you want to risk that they’ll be good enough to do it next year?
What about Andy Dalton or Cam Newton, the two potential free agents in 2021? Maybe. They’re capable. They have tread left on the tires. Dalton will have the advantage of a year in the offense as Prescott’s backup. But I also made the point that Dalton’s year on the bench will likely yield multiple suitors to make him a starter. The Cowboys would be more likely to commit to Dalton ONLY if they know for certain Prescott won’t be back (as in, the relationship has broken down to the point of no return). As for Newton, he could have a fine year in New England and, if he does, count on the Patriots re-signing him, or another team overspending to get him. The rest of the options aren’t worth chasing.
And the NFL Draft? The last two Cowboys’ long-term quarterbacks were a fourth-round pick (Prescott) and an undrafted free-agent (Tony Romo). Let’s face it. Romo was a gift from out of the blue. The Cowboys knew that Prescott had tools, but they’re lucky that Prescott was able to settle into the offense so quickly after Romo’s career-ending injury.
The reality is they’ve spoiled Cowboys fans that this team can find a quarterback anywhere. And, yes, the Cowboys could draft an option next year. But with a talented team that has Super Bowl aspirations, they would have to maneuver high into the first round to get a difference-maker like Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields to increase their chances of getting an immediate impact player.
Risky. And perhaps not fair to the other 54 guys that the Cowboys need to get them to the Super Bowl, many of which are in their prime.
The trade option? Well, there’s Aaron Rodgers. He’ll be 38 years old next year and there’s an immense amount of baggage between him and head coach Mike McCarthy, but they won a Super Bowl together. Matthew Stafford is another option. But both Rodgers and Stafford carry high price tags, both in salary and perceived trade value. Any deal may be hard to pull off.
This is the risk assessment every NFL team has to make in this situation. It’s the ‘Is the grass really greener on the other side?’ scenario. Maybe DiNucci is a diamond in the rough. Maybe Dalton or Newton can get it done. Maybe there is a quarterback in this upcoming draft that can be Prescott 2.0. Maybe Rodgers can be a home run for a year. Or Stafford.
But, to me, the risk and cost of pursuing any of those options is higher than the risk of keeping Prescott. You know him. You know his game. You have good tools around him. He’s young and talented and can play at a high level for several more years. Or did you forget he’s pretty good at this football thing?
Here are Prescott’s numbers his first four NFL seasons — 15,778 yards passing, 97 touchdowns and 36 interceptions while completing 65.8 percent of his passes and carrying a 97.0 quarterback rating. He’s 40-24 as a starter (he hasn’t missed a game), he’s led eight comebacks and 14 game-winning drives while taking the Cowboys to three playoff games. And there are people that want to kick THAT to the curb?
So, let’s play this game for a second. Let’s compare Prescott to three other young quarterbacks in their first four seasons in the NFL (stay with me, I’m making a point):
Tom Brady: 10,233 yards passing, 69 TDs, 38 INTs, 61.9 completion percentage and 85.9 quarterback rating (Brady played just one game his first season).
Ben Roethlisberger: 11,673 yards passing, 84 TDs, 54 INTs, 63.2 completion percentage and 92.5 quarterback rating (Roethlisberger played 56 games and made 55 starts).
Russell Wilson: 13,974 yards passing, 106 TDs, 34 INTs, 64.7 completion percentage and 101.8 passer rating (like Prescott, he started every game his first four years).
Prescott’s numbers are comparable to all three of them. Of course, there is one OBVIOUS difference. During those first four seasons Brady, Roethlisberger and Wilson each led their teams to a Super Bowl victory. They did so on the cheap, on their rookie contracts, making their value in comparison a bargain for each team. Each was rewarded with rich, long-term deals afterward. In other words, they were ‘worth’ the money.
If that’s your standard, that’s fine. In the NFL, winning titles is the standard by which everyone is measured. If Romo fails to make the Hall of Fame (which I believe is likely) that standard is likely to keep him out. If you want to hold it against Prescott and the Cowboys that he wasn’t able to help them cash in on a title while he was playing on a pittance of a contract, so be it. But you should know that many others in the organization and on that team shoulder the blame for that, too.
But none of that means that Prescott isn’t the long-term answer for the Cowboys at quarterback. And if the Cowboys had just signed him to that deal back in September — the one CowboysS1.com reported was worth around $33 million per year and that many said back then wasn’t ‘worth the money’ — we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He’d be a bargain now, because Patrick Mahomes has complicated everything.
Mahomes’ mega-deal — which will average out to $50 million per annum once it triggers after the completion of his rookie deal — reset the market in a complicated way for the Cowboys. Prescott’s tag is worth $31.8 million this year. Next year, the Cowboys could tag Prescott again and his tag contract would only go up a few million. But in 2022, if the Cowboys tag him for a third year Prescott’s tag will jump to over $50 million — and that’s assuming no one breaks the bank again. Thanks, Mahomes.
Of course you’re saying ‘he’s not worth THAT kind of money either.’ Maybe he’s not. But that’s the market now. And maybe that’s what Prescott and his agents wanted, especially after the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in February and it was clear they were never letting Mahomes get away (there’s that pesky winning a Super Bowl on your rookie deal thing again). And, if so, bully for Prescott and his agent, Todd France, for playing the market to perfection. It isn’t their job to give you, the fan, or the Cowboys a bargain.
But the Cowboys need to get this done as soon as they're able. Don’t wait. Don’t dither. Get the deal done as soon as the calendar turns for the 2021 season. It may not be the bargain it might have been a year ago, but it’s not necessarily about getting a bargain anymore.
It’s about what’s right for the long-term success of the Cowboys, giving the team the best possible chance to win for the next five to seven years and contend for the postseason and the Super Bowl. Because you can’t get to a Super Bowl if you don’t win games.
I’m convinced Prescott is worth the risk. And none of the options that I explored earlier this week are less risky that giving the current QB1 the money and watching what happens next.
2) ARE WE REALLY GONNA CALL IT ‘CAMP CLUSTER****?’
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This week the Dallas Cowboys, along with the rest of the NFL, started training camp. The Cowboys won’t be in Oxnard, California, this year. Instead, they’ll be at The Star in Frisco. Players reported this week and our ’75-man staff’ was all over it.
First, Richie Whitt and then Mike Fisher wrote about the fact that one Cowboys exec called this camp a potential ‘cluster****’ and noted this camp would be ‘unprecedented’ in so many ways:
But from the unprecedented move of holding preseason in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for the first time in 61 years to COVID-19 testing being the most vital part of the team physical, training camp at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco will be saturated with mystery, history and heaping dose of unfamiliarity.
But, as crazy as this training camp could be, there are ACTUAL football questions that need to be answered. And our Mike Fisher was all over that, too.
Before camp started, the Cowboys had to place wide receiver Jon’Vea Johnson on the new reserve/COVID-19 list. Mike Fisher broke down what that means for the Cowboys and for Johnson.
Then, we took a stab at what the 55-man roster might look like once training camp ends (because, remember, there is no preseason). Here’s our story on the defense and special teams, while this one focuses on the offense.
Training camp is a great place to prove yourself to an NFL team. But Fish outlined five players that could be the most hurt by the fact that there’s no preseason. It’s a list of depth players that were looking to makes waves this July and August. Now they’ll have to do it exclusively during training camp.
Meanwhile, Fish got the exclusive details on the Blue and White Scrimmage, even while the Cowboys work out the finer details.
New Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs took some time to talk with the media about the strangeness of this season and his practice time with his older brother, Stefon.
And the Cowboys gave us a glance inside The Star to see the precautions being taken.
3) BIADASZ TALKS ABOUT MCCARTHY’S MESSAGE
Dallas Cowboys rookie center Tyler Biadasz on Wednesday became one of the first members of the team to speak from the club's training camp at The Star ... and emphasized the first thing new coach Mike McCarthy said to the group.
Plus, get a look at the Cowboys’ new ‘safe distance tracker,’ a social distancing device the Cowboys will use during training camp.
4) COWBOYS REMAIN MOST VALUABLE FRANCHISE
Earlier this week Forbes released its list of the most valuable pro sports franchises. For the fifth straight year, the Cowboys took the title. It’s not a Lombardi, of course. But it’s something.
5) COWBOYS IN THE TOP 100
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yep, it’s time for the NFL’s Top 100 list, as released by NFL.com and voted on by the league’s players. As our Bri Amaranthus points out, with more 1,700 players in the NFL, getting ranked in the Top 100 by one’s peers is quite the honor.
6) A COWBOYS PLAYER CHOOSES TO SIT OUT OVER COVID-19
Dallas Cowboys backup cornerback Maurice Canady had a fan club in the scouting department, support enough to make it possible that he might've emerged as a candidate to be a rotation player on the 2020 edition of the team. But things change — especially when COVID-19 changes them. So Canady on Monday becomes the first Cowboy to use the virus-forced "opt-out'' rule to not play this season.
The Cowboys were expecting Canady to compete for a roster spot and playing time in the defensive backfield. He’ll be missed. But he’ll be back in 2021.
And while Canady is opting out, defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is not, as reported earlier this week.
7) ROOKIES RESPOND TO THEIR ROOKIE DEALS
All of the Cowboys’ rookies got their deals agreed to last week, and our Mike Fisher had all the financial details for each deal.
8) WHITT'S END: COWBOYS STADIUM (MOVIN’) AND SHAKIN’
In 1996, Jerry Jones realized Texas Stadium needed a full makeover complete with a retractable roof. He attempted to persuade Irving voters to pull out of DART, so the city could instead use its one-cent sales tax on stadium renovations. Jones went so far as to finance Irving’s anti-DART campaign and committed $2 million to help the city establish a mass-transit alternative. The deal: In exchange for a Texas Stadium facelift, the Cowboys would remain in Irving for 25 years. But by a margin of 57-43 percent, Irving voters chose DART over the NFL.
Nine years later, construction began on Cowboys Stadium. In Arlington.
9) THE KICKER COMPETITION IS OVER
The Dallas Cowboys are not going to stage a kicking competition. Greg Zuerlein is in. Kai Forbath - one of five Cowboys we predicted might be in "bubble trouble'' - is out.
10) TWEET OF THE WEEK
Get a College Football America Yearbook today and see what college football stars might be Cowboys in 2021.