For this and all posts between now and the second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins on Friday night, we have to keep a caveat in mind: It was just one preseason game. But having said that, we have now seen the Dallas Cowboys play against another NFL team, and that is far more data than we have had to work with. While we are making projections, they have something fairly solid to base them on. And there is no question that the debut of Dak Prescott far exceeded anyone’s expectations for him. That opens up a possibility that few if any even considered. The Cowboys may now have the option of only carrying two quarterbacks on the 53 man roster.
With the need for depth at running back, tight end, defensive line, and other places, every spot is crucial for Dallas (as it is for all NFL teams). The Cowboys have gone with just two quarterbacks in the past. Going into this season, it was assumed the team wanted a competent and experienced backup for Tony Romo while carrying Prescott as the third, developmental QB. The jump to the NFL was seen as too big for him to make after his first training camp. Suddenly, that belief is being questioned. Prescott just did not look like a rookie whose college experience was in a spread offense where he never worked under center. Although the play calls put him in the shotgun a lot, he still worked some under center and was very effective with play action. Above and beyond all that, he exhibited poise and composure that was remarkable. Many quarterbacks who never make it in the league do so because they never get comfortable facing NFL pass rushes. They constantly check down, fail to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball, and make ill advised throws under pressure. Prescott did none of that. The Los Angeles Rams, while not playing all their starters, still have one of the more respected pass rushes in the league. It simply did not faze Prescott at all. The scramble to get Dan Bailey in position for a routine (for him) field goal in the second quarter was the best example of this. He made the smart decision, taking what he could get and helping the team instead of making a low-percentage throw.
Now the idea of Prescott becoming the number two quarterback for the regular season seems a lot more reasonable than it did just a day ago. The failure to acquire a Nick Foles or a Josh McCown looks more and more like a blessing in disguise. Prescott (and Jameill Showers) will get the reps that a vet QB would have absorbed, and those should only help their development. And the backup and developmental QB can become one and the same with Prescott. The team can still try to get Showers on the practice squad where the still raw player can continue to grow. It is far too early to have any confidence in this, but it is now actually conceivable that Dallas may have their future starter and a long term backup already on the roster. While Showers, who did not have the advantages of most of the starting offense playing with him, was not nearly as impressive, a deeper look shows that he also showed an amazing amount of presence and poise on the field, especially under duress. His escape from an all but certain sack to complete a big pass play was something that the coaches will certainly take note of.
That still remains to be seen, of course, and depends on a lot, such as not having Showers poached if they try to get him through waivers. But for this season, the idea of Prescott as the only other quarterback besides Romo on the 53 man roster is no longer just a pipe dream.
A severe or even moderate regression in the remaining preseason games could derail all that. (Some minor decline is unavoidable. No quarterback is going to put up ratings over 150 in consecutive games.) But if Prescott is able to manage even a general approximation of his opening performance, he could claim the backup job as his own. Some have cited the fact he played the first quarter with most of the starters around him on the field as a reason to not put too much weight on his gaudy numbers, but that is exactly the wrong thing to take away. As the backup, he would be called upon to step in with the starters. He has shown a great grasp of how to fit in. He got the ball to a variety of receivers. With him, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley were used with great effectiveness. The chemistry looks to be already there. And even Alfred Morris, who was supposed to be only a two down back, was a weapon on screen passes. The fact the play calling was tailored to make Prescott look his best is also not something that should be used to try and find fault with him. That is what an offensive game plan is supposed to do. And based on the very limited evidence we have, the coaching staff knows how to use him to great effect. Why would the team want to bring in a veteran quarterback they would have to learn how to use when they already have that with him? There is no guarantee they would ever be able to do as well with a quarterback that another team has parted with or feels comfortable trading away.
Our expectations may still come crashing down before the initial 53 man roster is set, but things could not have gone better at the QB position for the first preseason game. Having options is vital when the staff is selecting those players to carry into the regular season. Prescott has just opened the door on an option that no one really saw as viable before he exploded on the field. If he does not close it through his own play in the remaining preseason games, it is going to be very tempting for the staff to walk through it.