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Dak Prescott And The Dallas Cowboys: Who Made Who?

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The rookie quarterback has become the sensation of the 2016 NFL season, and not just in Dallas. But he may be benefiting from being a Cowboy even more than the Cowboys are profiting from him.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers
It’s a team thing.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You already know the story. Dak Prescott, the rookie taken as a fourth-round supplemental pick, has led the Dallas Cowboys back to relevancy in the NFL. He has already set some individual records, and all indications are that he is the heir apparent as the starting quarterback for America’s Team. The only unknown is when that will be as the debate about starting or sitting Tony Romo rages on. With the veteran still out due to injury, Prescott has saved the season (so far) and been nothing short of brilliant (so far).

But there is another side to this coin. To a very great degree, the Cowboys have made Dak Prescott.

Now, before you get your blood pressure up, this is not to take anything away from the rookie. He is very talented, and his greatest assets seem to be his almost legendary poise and his incredible ability to learn and process, whether in the meeting rooms, on the practice field, or during games. He may well go down as one of the greatest quarterback steals in the draft, ranking right up there with players like Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. That is a long way from being proven, of course, but he could not have gotten off to a much better start, and has been proving doubters wrong each and every time he steps on the field.

However, it is also becoming somewhat clear that he may have stepped into the best situation for a rookie quarterback in the entire league. He has arguably the best offensive line in the league to protect him, the NFL’s leading rusher to take pressure off the passing game, a receiving corps that has been thoroughly effective whether or not Dez Bryant is on the field, and an overachieving defense that is holding opponents to an average of only 17.8 points a game, which makes outscoring them much easier. There is also the fact that Scott Linehan seems to have a near-genius understanding of how to best utilize Prescott’s skill set, while Jason Garrett, Wade Wilson, and, yes, Tony Romo, have done a tremendous job developing him from a spread-offense college quarterback into a surprisingly well-rounded pro quarterback who can work under center or from the shotgun, and who always looks totally at home in the pocket. It was widely reported how Garrett would stay after practice and throw the ball back and forth with Prescott in camp, and that is apparently still ongoing. He is getting all the support and coaching he can - and soaking it up like a sponge.

In the offseason following the Great Debacle of 2015, the Cowboys were left trying to pick up the pieces and put things back together again. They kept the ones that they thought would work, and added what they thought was missing, including Ezekiel Elliott, Maliek Collins, and Anthony Brown, who have all been major contributors. Prescott was another key piece, a developmental quarterback that offered some hope of being an upgrade over incumbent backup Kellen Moore.

Of course, he turned out to be so much more than that. What should not be overlooked, however, is how well he fit into the puzzle in Dallas. There is a chance he might have gone on to NFL success elsewhere, but this is clearly not like trying to come in to win with the Cleveland Browns or the Chicago Bears (both teams where he would almost certainly have seen the field by now as injuries have devastated their QB units). The collapse last year by the Cowboys turned out to be somewhat deceptive. There was more on the roster to work with than the 4-12 record indicated. The 5-1 start to this season makes that clear, because even the best quarterback cannot overcome a roster that is otherwise markedly inadequate. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts are the best example.

We also are all well aware of how the door was first opened for Prescott when Moore was injured during training camp. And although hindsight leaves open the possibility that Prescott would have bumped Moore down the depth chart even had he not been injured, he may have been able to hang onto his position. There was certainly a perception that he was Linehan’s personal pet cat. And had he stayed at number two, it may not have been the disaster that many would have predicted. It is not inconceivable that he would have been able to have the Cowboys at no worse than 3-3. After Romo was injured, there were many who would have considered that a very good outcome going into the bye week, no matter who was filling in. The rest of the team has been very good, and with Elliott’s emergence as a serious contender to lead the league in rushing all the way to the end of the year, Moore may have been able to keep the team afloat until Romo was able to return.

That would have left us still wondering what the team had in Prescott. Obviously, things are much better this way, with the Cowboys riding a five game winning streak and seeming to gain confidence with every victory. Additionally, there is now less than zero pressure to hurry Romo back until he is completely healed and fully ready. Dallas was very fortunate to get Prescott.

And he was incredibly lucky to make it to the Cowboys. The attempt to trade up for Paxton Lynch and the subsequent desire to take Connor Cook at the beginning of the fourth round have been well-documented. Had Dallas gotten Lynch (at the cost of some of the other pieces they now have), he may have done close to as well as Prescott, although it is hard to imagine him equaling what we have seen. Just in my personal opinion, Cook would have been far less a quarterback on the field, and may have been a really bad fit in the Dallas locker room, based on pre-draft reports about his conduct and demeanor at Michigan State. There is little doubt that Prescott has fit perfectly into the culture of Jason Garrett’s team, which is another aspect of things that has contributed to the success so far, as Mickey Spagnola has noted.

Had Prescott landed somewhere else in the league, it is extremely unlikely that he would be the talk of the league and part of the biggest quarterback controversy of the year, and possibly the biggest in quite some time. He would either be on the bench, possibly stuck behind a less-capable veteran, or he would have been forced into playing with a team that provided far less support up and down the roster than the Cowboys. Prescott was as close to a perfect fit for what Dallas needed, and they were the ideal landing place for him. And as Spagnola put it in the article linked above, he knows exactly how much he has benefited.

And Dak will be the first to attest to what’s happening in front of him, and he knows, too, that without those guys and Zeke running the ball the way he has, he has no chance of putting up a 103.9 passer rating after six games, complete 68.7 percent of his passes, have a 7-to-1 touchdown/interception ratio and quarterback this team to the most victories in a single season than any other Cowboys rookie quarterback … already.

There’s a term for it: Synergy. Where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For Prescott, being part of that whole is making all the difference. He is only at the beginning of his career, and there have been flashes in the pan before. But every sign is that he is far more than that, and he could well be the starting quarterback for Dallas for a decade or more - once Romo is done, whenever that is. And all signs are that he is in a better situation than he would have been in all but a handful of other teams. Almost every other franchise must be wondering why they passed up on multiple chances to take him. But outside of a handful of teams, like the Patriots, the Vikings, and Lynch’s landing spot, the Broncos, none of them could have utilized him as well, or given him such a chance to shine.

Who made who? Dak may be making the Cowboys’ season. But the Cowboys made Dak as well.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB