Prescott won Offensive Rookie of the Year and led Dallas to a 13-3 record, cementing his place as the Cowboys’ franchise QB. Romo retired after that season, and the keys were handed to Prescott.
But what if Prescott underperformed in 2016? Even though Prescott was playing well in Romo’s absence, owner Jerry Jones insisted he would start over Prescott when he returned from injury. However, the better Prescott played, the more that didn't make sense.
But, if Prescott were dreadful, or at least didn’t play as well as he did, Romo would’ve gotten his job back. If this happened, Dallas doesn’t go 9-1 in the first 10 weeks of the season, the length of Romo’s injury.
It’s also safe to say the Cowboys wouldn’t have improved that much with a 36-year-old Romo coming off yet another injury. Dallas may not have even made the playoffs that season.
Regardless of whether or not the Cowboys made the playoffs in 2016, Prescott proved he wasn’t the answer in this scenario. What happens next depends on what decision Romo makes. Does he return for another season after injury cut his last two short? Or does he retire as he did in real life?
If he chooses the former, it’s hard to see Romo lasting beyond 2017. The Dallas offensive line struggled that season, allowing multiple sacks in eight games. I doubt Romo would go through eight sacks against the Atlanta Falcons and four against the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks without getting injured again.
Maybe, if Romo got hurt, Prescott would’ve had another shot. Or, since he underperformed in 2016, the keys would’ve been handed to Kellen Moore, who was only behind Prescott in 2016 due to a freak fibula injury in training camp.
The Cowboys failed to make the playoffs in real-life 2017, so I doubt they would make it in this alternate 2017 with a possible QB shuffle. Romo, who would be 38 in 2018, would’ve probably retired after getting injured for the third time in three seasons.
Because of this, Dallas would’ve been in the quarterback market in 2018. Maybe, the Cowboys might've tried to roll the dice on Prescott or Moore again. Or, they take a stab at the free agent class, whose only starting-caliber player was Kirk Cousins.
The third option would be taking a guy in that year’s draft, held in Dallas. QBs like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson were all taken in the first round that year. Depending on the Cowboys’ record in 2017, they could’ve been in the position to select any of these players, and the chances of choosing a bust would be basically 50/50.
If Romo chose to retire in 2017 as he did in real-life, this exact scenario would happen but one year earlier. 2017’s QB free agent class was notoriously underwhelming, with the best players being Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Mike Glennon and Ryan Fitzpatrick. That year’s draft saw Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson all taken in the first round.
No matter what happened, there’s no doubt the team looks different today. Maybe, the Cowboys would've found their franchise guy anyway. Or they’re still in a QB carousel right now.
It makes you realize that franchise QBs don’t grow on trees. And if you have one, you should appreciate him. Prescott’s road to becoming Dallas’ starter was already improbable, and the Cowboys have QB stability thanks to his continued high-level play.