2017 was a season that left the Dallas Cowboys with a ton of questions to think about. Dez Bryant's contract, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith's availability, and the future of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving are some of those questions.
But there's another more pressing question for the Cowboys. How can they get the most out of Quarterback Dak Prescott and avoid another struggling year for him?
Also, what if he has another rough year? At what point does quarterback become a position that needs to be evaluated if he continues to struggle?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that will be the case. In fact, I have a lot of faith in Dak. I think he's shown a lot to be excited about and I definitely believe there's a "quarterback curve" in the NFL. Hopefully, #4 finds a way to get back on track in 2018.
A reason to be optimistic about Prescott's future is an impressive stat from NFL Next Gen Stats. Turns out, Dak Prescott ranked first in the NFL in "tight window throws" completion percentage with 45.8%.
According to Matt Harmon from NFL.com, a "tight window throw" is defined as a pass in which the intended receiver has less than a yard of separation from the defender.
Dak Prescott is far from a perfect quarterback and he's constantly bashed about his throwing accuracy. Just recently, he took part in a passing competition with David Carr before the NFL Honors and well... it's fair to say Carr completely beat him.
David Carr 6, Dak Prescott 1 pic.twitter.com/rV532Q3Cob
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) 6 de febrero de 2018
Cowboys Twitter was anything but forgiving for the young quarterback, but at the end of the day, I'm not sure a casual passing competition at an event like that one is the way you judge an NFL starting quarterback who has a 22-10 record in his career.
Dak has a long way to go before being considered an excellent quarterback in the league, but a bad season like 2017 doesn't mean it's the end of his career and that the Dallas Cowboys should start Cooper Rush over him.
It's not the first quarterback who struggles one year and he won't be the last one to bounce back from one. As of right now, Dak Prescott rightfully is the Dallas Cowboys QB1. Hopefully he has a better year next season.
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury
Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith did not just defy all odds and return to normalcy in 2017, starting as the Cowboys' middle linebacker for a full 16 games. He became one of the team's and NFL's brightest success stories, earning the right to celebrate everyday activities returning to his life - as football did this season.
This is exactly what Jaylon Smith did on Twitter Friday afternoon, posting a Snapchat video of himself bowling. The caption on Twitter adds that Smith was enjoying his time at the lanes for the first time in two years.
It was January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon Smith's injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame changed his outlook forever. In that moment, Smith went from a projected top ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to a LB that would need a team to take a chance on him - and be patient.
The Dallas Cowboys proved to be that team, using the 34th overall pick on the Notre Dame star and supporting his efforts to return to the field from day one. The entire Cowboys' organization was rewarded by Smith remarkably playing every game this season, inspired by his constant determination to do just that.
So, a normal offseason for Jaylon Smith is anything but right now. Still battling the drop foot condition (one that is reportedly healing well and "fading") which limits his movement ability in the lower body, Smith is a normal Dallas Cowboys football player from this point forward.
He can say he's already defined all odds, can expect to take an even bigger stride forward in 2018, and Jaylon Smith can go bowling again. You can't help but be happy for #54.
Dak Prescott Weighs in on Cowboys “Dak Friendly” Offense
Welcome to the 2018 NFL offseason. Assuming you're a Cowboys fan, get used to hearing the following phrases at a tireless rate:
- "The Cowboys need to be more like the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles!"
- "The Cowboys need to make their offense more Dak friendly."
These two takes on the Dallas Cowboys can coexist, as the biggest key to the Eagles' turnaround from 7-9 to Super Bowl champions was their ability to surround second-year Quarterback Carson Wentz with the necessary talent to succeed.
Acquisitions like Alshon Jeffery and Jay Ajayi proved enough for backup QB Nick Foles to ultimately carry this team to their first Lombardi trophy.
Hoping to make a similar turnaround from 9-7, the Cowboys' task at hand this offseason is to similarly infuse fresh talent into an offense that went stale with Dak Prescott at the helm in year two. Returning Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott to the lineup on a regular basis is certainly a great starting point.
Entering a pivotal third year as the Cowboys' starter, Prescott himself has weighed in on what this notion of a "Dak friendly" offense may look like on the field in 2018.
"...if you watch a little bit of maybe what the Panthers are doing or what the Chiefs did, just the RPOs, the run-pass options, just allowing me to use my feet if necessary more" - Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
Dak later added that feeling "more comfortable" would be an overall improvement to strive for next season, which is spot on.
Surviving the Cowboys' horrific lack of continuity -- and often-times talent -- on offense in 2017, Prescott was visibly uncomfortable as a passer far more times than he was in 2016 as just a rookie. Hearing Prescott specifically mention the Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers as offenses to emulate is certainly noteworthy too.
In total offense per game, the Cowboys ranked 14th this season at 331.9 yards -- five spots ahead of the Panthers (323.7). The Chiefs reached the top five in this category before trading Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins this offseason, averaging 375.4 yards a game.
The common theme throughout these teams is the simplicity they allow their quarterbacks to play with, scheming receivers open, utilizing backs to create mismatches both on the ground and through the air, and running their mobile QBs when needed.
Beginning this 2018 Cowboys offseason by claiming the Cowboys offense needs to actually be more simplistic is sure to send Cowboys Nation into a frenzy. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, who will work alongside plenty of new position coaches in 2018, has been heavily criticized for the predictable nature of his offense. Predictable and simplistic are two drastically different terms when considering the nuances of the fast-paced, spread offenses that have taken over the NFL.
It's QB friendly systems like these that produced Cam Newton, Alex Smith, and Dak Prescott.
A simple RPO design that Prescott has run since his days at Mississippi State may be predictable for opposing defenses to an extent, but stopping Prescott from either handing the ball to Zeke Elliott or carrying it himself behind this dominant offensive line in Dallas is much harder.
The Dallas Cowboys' Dak friendly offense may not feature many new starters in 2018. Instead, it will be up to this coaching staff to better identify the strengths of this unit and play to them -- something the Panthers and Chiefs did exceptionally well all season long.
When Dak Prescott himself speaks to his strengths as a fourth-round draft pick turned franchise quarterback, facing the pressure of putting his team back in the playoffs as a third-year starter, you can only hope that the Dallas Cowboys take notice.
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