The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2020 offseason process with two of their most important job positions surrounded in uncertainty; head coach and starting quarterback. Mike McCarthy has now filled one of those voids, but what about Dak Prescott's free agency? What's next for the Cowboys and their offensive leader?
Today begins Inside The Star's position-by-position breakdown of Dallas' roster as we prepare for 2020 free agency, the draft, and all other offseason business. Before we dive into the narrative, here's a snapshot of where we're at today:
2020 Quarterback Contract Statuses
- Clayton Thorson
- Free Agents
- Dak Prescott (UFA)
- Cooper Rush (RFA)
UFA = Unrestricted, RFA = Restricted
Nobody, even Clayton Thorson's mother, thinks he should be the Cowboys' starting QB in 2020. Few would even be comfortable with him as a backup, having never even see him play in a preseason game with Dallas.
So indeed, with Prescott and Rush both free agents, there is work to do at quarterback. On top of those needs, McCarthy's arrival brings a major change in the offensive philosophy and values from the last regime.
We're entering a new era of Dallas Cowboys football. Does the new coach believe in the holdover QB, or could McCarthy possibly want to move in a new direction?
So far, both McCarthy and the Cowboys front office have left no room for speculation about Prescott's future with the team. Whether it's through a long-term deal or the franchise tag, they have been clear in their desire to keep Dak in Dallas.
Last week I wrote about the need to get Prescott's contract figured out sooner rather than later. I think it will lay the foundation needed for the rest of the offseason work, plus guarantee that Dak stays close to the team to help others through the transition in the coaching staff.
According to Stephen Jones in a recent interview, the Cowboys and Prescott were close to agreeing on a new contract before the 2019 season began. Did last year's highs and lows leave the two sides in roughly the same spot?
Dak had a breakout season as a passer, thanks largely to the play-calling shift in going from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore at offensive coordinator. But Prescott also looked smarter and smoother in the pocket, which many credit first-year QB Coach Jon Kitna for.
Early in 2019 there was MVP buzz around Prescott's performance. But by the end of the year and with Dallas missing the playoffs, Dak didn't even make the Pro Bowl.
How much has the needle moved on Prescott's asking price in free agency? His stock shot up in September but settled a bit by the end of the season. What does that now mean for contract negotiations in 2020?
The bottom line here is that the Cowboys, including Mike McCarthy, appear firmly committed to keeping Dak Prescott this season. By whatever means that occurs, his compensation is about go up by $30 million dollars or more from the roughly $2 million he made in 2019. It's a financial hurdle that Dallas has been preparing for and is now upon us.
But while Prescott's return in 2020 seems like a sure thing, but the same can't be said for his backup.
We've had 2.5 seasons now with Cooper Rush serving as the primary backup. As an undrafted rookie he took over midway through 2017 from Kellen Moore and has held the job ever since.
Rush is a restricted free agent in 2020. A few weeks ago I broke down the particulars of his situation and the logic behind keeping Cooper or letting him walk.
While Dak Prescott certainly appears ready to survive the coaching regime change, Rush is a different story. His greatest asset right now is experience in the offense, but does McCarthy's arrival mitigate that value?
It helps that Kellen Moore is sticking around as the offensive coordinator and play caller. He might appreciate the continuity and push for Rush to stick around.
But McCarthy likely has his own list of backup and developmental quarterbacks from around the NFL. What about a guy like Brett Hundley, who is about to become a free agent and was with Mike in Green Bay from 2016-2017?
That is just one example; who knows what other players out there might be on McCarthy's radar? He just spent all of 2019 watching the entire NFL and preparing for his return.
Dallas shouldn't have any trouble keeping Cooper Rush if they want to. He's never had the opportunity to show things in the regular season; teams are unlikely to target him as a free agent.
Of course, most Cowboys fans aren't losing sleep about Rush's future. The focus is all on Dak Prescott's next contract; when will it get done, how long will it be, and how much will it be worth?
But clearly, with both the starter and the backup heading into free agency, quarterback is going to be a major story throughout the 2020 offseason.