Dak Prescott has thrown 106 touchdown passes for the Dallas Cowboys. He has won 43 games, including one in the playoffs, as a starting quarterback. He has led 15 winning drives.
He’s a very, very good NFL quarterback. He’ll likely be one again following Sunday night surgery to help fix a gruesome leg injury the 27-year-old suffered in a 37-34 victory over the New York Giants.
His recovery time is expected to be four to six months, so the 2020 season is shot. That means the Cowboys and their most recognizable star will enter another offseason with the long-term contract status up in the air. Prescott played this season under a one-year franchise tag designation, earning $31.4 million.
Does Dallas franchise him again, with the salary jumping to $37.69 million? Do the Cowboys try to work a multi-year deal despite uncertainties about the injury and/or future salary caps (league revenue is down due to COVID-19)?
It’s all up in the air now.
Prescott rejected a lucrative, longer deal last offseason, betting on himself, his health and the ability of Dallas to win big this season. He played well, but the Cowboys didn’t win as they’re just 2-3 with the victories coming in tight games against opponents who are a combined 0-10. And now he’s hurt.
That was the risk he took. It’s the reality he now faces.
For Prescott, the injury is a major negative, of course. Rehab will be extensive and, although optimism here is very high, no one ever knows for sure what the recovery will look like. Additionally, Andy Dalton is now the Dallas quarterback and he has a chance to revitalize his post-Cincinnati career with a slew of offensive weapons (Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup).
So, we’ll see.
For Dak, though, the injury did reveal — or cement — an important truth.
He is a lot more than a stat line.
The reaction from teammates, coaches, staffers and even opponents to the compound fracture went beyond the normal concern and well-wishes that are common when someone is seriously hurt.
Fellow Cowboys, in particular, rallied to his side and spent the game using his fall as motivation to pull out a victory. When Elliott scored on a fourth-quarter run, he went directly to the camera and held up four fingers to shout out Prescott’s jersey number.
“Our leader,” Elliott said afterward.
“In my short time working with him, he’s made such an impression on me,” first-year Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s clearly the leader of this football team.”
That should count for something. A lot even. Prescott is the definition of a franchise quarterback, which is something teams covet more than anything else. He isn’t the best quarterback in the league. He isn’t Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. He isn’t far behind them on the field, though, and he is at least their equal off of it.
Dallas isn’t the easiest place to play with the spotlight of attention and the media-accessible team owner moonlighting as the general manager.
Prescott has proven he can handle all of that and help teammates handle it as well. Whatever hard feelings there were from last offseason’s contract negotiations, or whatever strange distance there appears to be between Jerry Jones and Prescott, he arrived this season in top form. And he continued to hold sway over his teammates and coaches.
There is also a chance Dallas finds out what it is missing now that he is missing.
Again, we’ll see, but even Jones was acknowledging this was no normal reaction to an injury and there is a value to that.
“The outpouring of messages that I have received regarding his setback speaks volumes to the respect and admiration that he has earned from his teammates, former Cowboy players and Cowboy supporters everywhere,” Jones said in a statement. “We have no doubt that he will return to the position of leadership and purpose that he brings to our team.”
What’s Prescott worth going forward? Should he be the highest-paid player in the league? Should he get north of $40 million per season?
The leverage has shifted to ownership now, but even in injury, Dak Prescott was showing something. Maybe that’s enough for Dallas. Maybe it’s elsewhere.
It goes beyond the stat sheet though, and that’s often where games and championships are won.
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