We've covered a lot of Dallas Cowboys topics already this offseason, and there are plenty still to come with about a month until training camp starts. Given the importance of the quarterback position, it's arguable that no question is more important than this; how will Dak Prescott perform in his second NFL season?
The term "sophomore slump" is heard too often in football. While there is evidence to support it, there are many examples of players who did not regress in their second year. In fact, many quarterbacks who started as rookies had their worst times in that first season and then steadily improved. Our own Troy Aikman is a fine example, as was Peyton Manning.
The player you've heard Dak Prescott compared to a lot in the last year is Tom Brady. Both were taken in the later rounds of the draft and found themselves starting unexpectedly due to injuries. They were also linked by Prescott breaking Brady's record for most passes thrown before getting his first career interception.
One major difference is that Brady was in his second season already with New England, but he only threw three passes a rookie as he sat behind Drew Bledsoe. Brady also got the starting job after the season had already begun in 2001, while Prescott got his midway early in the third preseason game
In 2002, Brady's first full year as the Patriots starter, he improved overall from the previous season. Touchdowns went up 18 to 28 and yards-per-game rose from 190 to 235 yds. Despite throwing close to 200 more passes in this second year, Brady's 14 interceptions were only two more than in 2001. He was also sacked 10 fewer times in 2002 despite many more pass attempts, showing his improved awareness and decision-making.
Brady's positive response to the increased workload is especially impressive considering issues with the Patriots roster. The reigning Super Bowl Champions dropped to 9-7 and missed the playoffs because of turnover throughout the team. Many quarterbacks would have gone down with the team, but Brady's famous consistency came through even this early in his career.
Of course, Dak Prescott isn't Tom Brady. There's nothing that says his career will follow the same trajectory. In fact, Prescott has already set the bar higher for his next season than Brady did.
Prescott's first year as starter dwarfs Brady's in almost every statistical category. Whether it's the 68% completions, 23-4 TD/INT ratio, or the 104.9 passer rating, Prescott's numbers were great by almost any standard.
This high bar could create a perception issue. Dak could still have a great season and yet not hit these same numbers. Teams will now be much more prepared for Prescott and the new-look Cowboys offense. This is often where the "sophomore slump" comes from.
There's reason for optimism, though. Prescott's all-time rookie season was based on efficient execution and sound judgment. These traits don't go away, as Tom Brady and other great ones have proven over their careers. If anyone has the mentality and temperament to overcome new challenges and keep rising, it's Dak Prescott.
Not only that, but Prescott's teammates aren't going anywhere. Dallas should still have a potent running attack with Ezekiel Elliott and the top offensive linemen returning. Dez Bryant is reportedly healthy and Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams are all back. He may even have a new weapon to use in rookie receiver Ryan Switzer.
At worst, the Cowboys defense should be about the same as last year. If it improves, that will only help take pressure off Prescott and the offense and decrease opportunities for mistakes. Dak proved he can keep up in a shootout and even lead the team from behind if needed, but the less times he has to do this the better it is for any quarterback.
One factor we can't ignore is a probably rise in the strength of schedule. Dallas had a fourth-place schedule in 2016 after their abysmal 4-12 season the year before. They will now have a first-place schedule and should be facing stronger competition overall. Once you get into the season, though, this doesn't always prove true.
Indeed, projecting anything is never foolproof. We're little better than weathermen sometimes, going with what we have but ultimately being at the mercy of the wind. Dak Prescott's second season will be what he, teammates, opponents, and plenty of other factors make it to be.
The good news is that whatever challenges come, Dak has already proven himself to be one of the most level-headed and determined young players we've ever seen. His leadership is obvious and ripples through the entire team. No matter what the Dallas Cowboys face in 2017, we can feel confident in who's steering the ship.
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstatement Decision Due Soon
The Dallas Cowboys should know by the end of this week if Defensive End Randy Gregory will be reinstated by the NFL from his indefinite suspension.
Gregory, who has missed nearly two seasons with drug-related bans, requested in May for Roger Goodell to allow him to return to football. The exact date of the request isn't known, but multiple sources put it somewhere around May 18-20.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL has 60 days to rule on a reinstatement request. That would put the approximate deadline no later than this Friday, July 20th.
Gregory was a second-round pick for Dallas in 2015. He was considered to have potentially elite pass-rushing skills but red flags about behavior and drug use hurt his draft stock.
Obviously those warning signs were warranted. Over three seasons, Randy has missed 30 out of 48 games due to suspension.
But reports from around the Cowboys organization and others who've dealt with Gregory rehabilitation efforts are positive. His appeal request appears strong, backed up by several testimonials that he's turned his life around.
Will Roger Goodell agree? Will Randy Gregory return to the Cowboys 2018?
We should know the answer soon.
Dak Prescott Ranked as Third Least Consistent QB in NFL
Last season could've gone a lot better for Dak Prescott. After a remarkable rookie season, he wasn't able to meet the very high expectations put on him after leading the Dallas Cowboys to the #1 seed in the NFC in 2016.
Inevitably, the "sophomore slump" managed to get to Dak, even though the numbers make it seem worse than it really was. From his 13 interceptions in 2017, not even half can be completely blamed on him. However, even though he made improvements in his game, it's fair to admit that there was indeed, a slump in his second year in the NFL.
Earlier this week, NFL.com published an article listing the most and the least consistent quarterbacks in the league last season. The way the list works is measuring "their average 2017 swing in week-to-week passer rating." In the list, Dak Prescott is listed as the third least consistent QB in the league, with only Cam Newton and Derek Carr behind him.
Just like the Dallas Cowboys' had a roller coaster for a season, constantly shifting between winning and losing, Dak Prescott also struggled at remaining consistent. It makes a ton of sense, of course, for the Cowboys' 9-7 season had a lot of swings throughout the year.
At times, the team was missing its most important defender in Sean Lee. At others, Tyron Smith and/or Ezekiel Elliott weren't on the field either. This is not an attempt to excuse Dak, for he is partly at fault here, as is the entire team.
From week 10 to 12, Dak failed to throw for a touchdown but ended up throwing five interceptions. Later in the season, failing once again to get a TD pass in two straight weeks, he threw for two interceptions at Oakland then another two when hosting the Seahawks in Dallas.
In a season that will likely determine his future with the Dallas Cowboys, Dak needs to find a way to be more consistent week after week regardless of circumstance. Hopefully, with an improved offensive line and with Ezekiel Elliott leaving every suspension drama behind him, his offense will put him in position to have his best year yet.
In 2016 and in 2017, his Total Quarterback Rating has been in the top 4 among all quarterbacks, per ESPN. Now, this is not a stat that tells the whole story, but it does give you an idea of each quarterback's play. In a run-first offense and with a safe passer like Dak, I'm sure consistency will not be hard to deal with for the young QB next season.
As long as he takes advantage of the new set of targets he'll have at his disposal and his offense's powerful running back with recently-signed draftee Connor Williams, this offense will look a lot more like the one we saw in 2016.
We know Dak Prescott has a lot to prove. He has to make longer throws, throw more aggressively to get his receivers open, and more. But consistency is just as important. In order to be continuously successful and to be a contender year after year, you need that in your signal-caller. Even if key players on the team are down, he needs to be able to shine. It's a sixteen-game season, after all.
It's time for Dak to prove he can handle that.
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