When the Dallas Cowboys sent a first-round pick to Oakland for receiver Amari Cooper, it was a big statement from Jerry Jones about where he stands on his head coach, starting quarterback, and the team as a whole. With that big move comes bigger expectations for all, and none will feel that increased heat greater than Dak Prescott.
Over the first two years of his NFL career, Prescott has arguably not had a number-one receiver. The team’s owner sees it that way; Jerry made that exact comment recently to the media.
Whether you agree with that indirect shot at Dez Bryant or not, you can’t deny that Bryant and Prescott’s lack of chemistry was a major issue the last two years. Maybe Dez could have still been a franchise WR for some other team, but it wasn’t working in Dallas with this quarterback.
Dak’s favorite target so far since entering the NFL has been Cole Beasley, who consistently gets open better than Bryant, Jason Witten, or any other player has been able to do since 2016. He gives Prescott the safer windows to throw into, which a conservatively minded passer like Dak needs.
But as we’ve seen over this span of time, Beasley is not dangerous enough that he and Prescott’s connection can be the foundation of an offense. When a team takes Ezekiel Elliot away, like the Redskins did last week, then there isn’t enough juice in the passing attack for the Cowboys to win most games.
To be fair, Dallas was a missed field goal and couple of bad penalties away from taking that road game in Washington. But that says more about the Redskins, who are more lucky than good in 2018, than the Cowboys.
Clearly, Jerry felt like his QB and offense needed more.
Still, Jerry Jones didn’t just give up a first-round pick to add another weapon. He sees this Cooper move as giving Prescott the one ingredient he hasn’t had yet in a bonafide NFL number-one receiver.
Jones is gambling on his faith in Prescott’s potential. The Cowboys didn’t have to pay the price most teams do to land their QB of the future. If Cooper is truly the missing piece, then Dallas essentially saves a first-round pick in the next few years by not having to spend it on Dak’s replacement.
But that raises the point that we haven’t wanted to admit since Dak Prescott started struggling; this guy was a late fourth-round draft pick. If he doesn’t work out as a long-term starter in the NFL, he really was never supposed to.
The Cowboys enjoyed one of the all-time “rags to riches” QB stories with Tony Romo, who went from undrafted free agent to a borderline Hall-of-Fame player. Kurt Warner, also undrafted, just got inducted last year. Tom Brady is probably the greatest sixth-round pick in NFL history; these things do happen.
But they’re not supposed to, and they usually don’t. The odds have been against Prescott since 32 teams decided he wasn’t worth a Thursday or Friday draft pick.
Because he wasn’t taken in the first round, Dak’s first big contract decision is coming quickly. The Cowboys will have to decide about his long-term viability no later than the 2020 offseason, and they probably would like to extend him before he has the leverage of unrestricted free agency.
So with this first-round pick surrendered in the Amari Cooper trade, Jerry Jones is trying to give Prescott everything he needs to make his case. He’s essentially saying, “No more excuses, kid. Go earn that next contract.”
Being the starting QB of the Dallas Cowboys is one of the toughest jobs in sports, regardless of other circumstances. But now Dak Prescott is trying to win more than just football games. He has to validate his owner’s faith.
On the field, Dak can do some amazing things against pressure. He can also fumble the ball one yard from his own endzone; we’ve seen plenty of the good and bad this year.
How will this new pressure affect Prescott? Will he start forcing throws to Amari Cooper, like we saw last year with Dez Bryant? Will he try too hard to make plays because he feels this intensified expectation?
Dak’s future, and the future of the Dallas Cowboys, depends on his response.