Dak To Dalton: What's Next For Cowboys?

Mike Fisher

FRISCO - It seems cruel to say, but an an NFL player, Dak Prescott knew exactly what he was signing up for - and indicated exactly that in the days leading up to what would be a horribly fateful Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

"It's a challenge,'' said the Dallas Cowboys QB. "Life's a challenge.''

Of course, Prescott was talking about the Cowboys having to forge ahead while saddled with injuries to so many of his teammates.

He wasn't talking about himself.

But that's where Dallas is now, sitting at 2-3 - and in first place in the putrid NFC East - thanks to a 37-34 victory over the Giants that required the services of two quarterbacks: Prescott, who was on his way to breaking NFL single-season passing records before sustaining a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle that required season-ending surgery, and Andy Dalton, who engineered the late comeback.

So, what's next for Dak, Dalton and the Cowboys? A trio of concerns:

What's Next For Dak?

The Cowboys franchise quarterback experienced successful surgery and is scheduled to leave the hospital on Monday. He is looking at a six-month rehab and a full recovery. When he's able, he will surely become a rallying point for the team, as he likely was on Sunday.

“It sucks,” said Ezekiel Elliott of the blow dealt his best football friend. “Honestly, I know we won, but it just sucks to lose Dak, our leader. I was talking to the guys; this is going to take all of us. It’s going to take all of us to fill that void that we are going to be missing from (No.) 4. We just gotta go out there and play for him.

"We just gotta support 4 and make sure he is good, and go out there and win ballgames for him.”

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Said coach Mike McCarthy: “I feel terrible for him. He was having a tremendous year. In the short time working with him, he’s made such an impression on me. He’s clearly the leader of this football team.''

Prescott now as a leader in street clothes? The Cowboys will take it. In the early going, Prescott's team was down 14-3 and being booed by the 25,000 fans at the stadium. Later those same fans dropped into a concerned hush ... then lifted themselves with rousing applause when a tearful Dak, while being carted off, raised a fist ... then reached another level with a forget-your-troubles celebration once Greg Zuerlein kicked the game-winning field goal to end the game.

Prescott can be a Cowboys leader for the next four or five months, even while he's not a Cowboys player.

What's Next For Dalton?

Dallas' backup QB Dalton is, we've written often in this space, the best in the NFL in that department. He justified our faith in his work in pushing the Cowboys to the victory. Yes, Michael Gallup made a pair of acrobatic catches to fuel the drive ... but those fine catches came as a result of two fine throws.

“It’s one of those things where you never want anything to happen, but you got to stay ready,” said Dalton, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 111 yards and a 108.7 passer rating in relief. “That’s what I’ve done. I’ve stayed ready, and I’ve been ready to go into these games.''

Dalton - who played at TCU before spending a decade as the Bengals starter - has a history that says he's ready. 

“We all have great confidence in Andy,” McCarthy said. “We’ve all been working together since training camp. Andy’s got a lot of pelts on the wall. ... It was no surprise to see him pick up and keep going.”

Dalton took the Dallas gig (one-year, $3 million) in part because he has a home in DFW and, in a COVID-19 time, wanted to make sure to be close to his family. But he also took it because he viewed this roster as having title potential.

The Cowboys will make some offensive alterations that fit Dalton, but his talent can help Dallas win the NFC East. He started 133 games in Cincinnati and led the Bengals to a trio of playoff runs. It's now his job to do the same here.

What's Next Off The Field?

Emotion aside, there is simply no reason for the Dak negotiations, which can resume on the day following the end of the Cowboys season, to play out any differently now than they would have without the injury. Maybe Prescott would've continued to put up huge numbers, maybe not. But - emotions aside - Dak remains a "commodity'' that the Jones family would like to have under contract long-term.

He is presently under the franchise tag, which pays him a guaranteed salary of $31.409 million. The Cowboys can do the same with Prescott next year, picking up right where they left off.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked optimistically about the future.

“I know the personal hardship and strife that he has faced, dealt with and overcome in his young life,'' Jones said of Dak. "And I know of no one who is more prepared, from the perspective of mental and emotional toughness and determination, than Dak Prescott to respond and recover from this challenge that has been put in front of him.

“He is an inspiration to everyone he touches. He has all of our love and support. And we have no doubt that he will return to the position of leadership and purpose that he brings to our team.”

Dak as leader-in-street-clothes. Dalton as the starting QB. The Joneses prepared to try to make it all work again contractually when the dust clears. That's where the Cowboys are right now.

"I have no doubt that he’ll bounce back from this,'' McCarthy said of Dak and the future. "This will be just another chapter of his great story.''

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