Although his team lost last Sunday and its championship hopes were crushed, Dak Prescott emerged victorious in the court of public opinion.
Prescott has not been blamed for the loss. Most have been encouraged by how well Dak performed despite the pressure of the game and the rising legend of Aaron Rodgers that he was competing against. Prescott managed to avoid any detriment to his reputation despite the team's failure.
In so doing, Dak avoided a label that haunted Tony Romo for his entire career.
Romo earned the "choke artist" tag because of his first playoff game. Despite a decade of fourth-quarter statistics that proved otherwise, Tony could never shake off that label with many in the national media and even some Cowboys fans.
Nobody will ever forget how Romo's first season as the Cowboys starter ended. In 2006, the unlikely hero led the Cowboys back to the postseason for only the second time since Troy Aikman retired. From undrafted to Pro Bowler, Tony Romo had become one of the most compelling figures in recent NFL history.
The lasting image for many, though, was of Romo fumbling the hold for what would've been a lead-changing field goal during the Wild Card round. The Seattle Seahawks moved on in the playoffs while Romo endured a horrible personal defeat. His comments from after the loss are painful even to read:
"I know how hard everyone in that locker room worked to get themselves in position to win that game today and for it to end like that, and for me to be the cause is very tough to swallow right now. I take responsibility for messing up at the end there. That's my fault. I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win, and it's going to sit with me a long time. I don't know if I have ever felt this low."
Despite the ups and downs of his entire career, Romo ultimately emerged as one of the great clutch quarterbacks of all time. He is among the league's best in all-time fourth-quarter passer rating and total number of comeback wins.
As we have witnessed, though, these statistical achievements aren't enough for many fans and even professional analysts. Those lasting images of fumbled snaps or a few late-game interceptions carry a lot of weight. Perhaps only a Super Bowl victory would have finally provided the counterbalance that Tony Romo needed.
With 302 yards and three touchdowns in last week's playoff loss, Dak Prescott hit two marks that Romo never did in the postseason. Romo never threw for 300 yards or scored more than two touchdowns in a single playoff game.
For casual observers, these are milestone marks that they use to define a "great" performance. Romo's personal body of work in the playoffs is very good; 62% completion percentage, eight touchdowns to only two interceptions, and a 93 passer rating. However, never having that single "big game" leaves the door open for his critics.
With the bonus of being a rookie and having had a personally great performance, Dak Prescott kept his name out of the mud in the loss. However, he still walks away with an 0-1 record in the playoffs. Dak may not be facing any backlash right now but that can quickly change.
For now, Dak Prescott is the foundation on which Cowboys fans have placed their hope. But with some still bitter about Tony Romo's departure and a level of success already achieved, Dak's grace period is already over. He won't have the rookie label to shield him anymore and has now set the NFC Championship Game as the next step in his personal progress.
Prescott is now simply another starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. It comes with a lot of perks, but as Tony Romo has lived for the last decade, it also comes with incredibly and even unreasonably high expectations.
Dak may have the jury's favor now, but the trial has only just begun.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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