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Summer nonsense: The questions about Dak Prescott’s leadership and “sophomore slump”

Colin Cowherd went on one of his patented rants about the Cowboys’ quarterback. I know. I shouldn’t have listened.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The things you do to try and bring good Dallas Cowboys content to the readers of this site. Sacrifices are made.

See, I happen to live in a rural part of East Texas, where there is limited sports radio coverage. Basically I can get one station that carries FOX Sports radio, which means that for three hours a day (which is also the time I usually am in my vehicle and listening), you get stuck with Colin Cowherd and his often one-dimensional “analysis”. On Thursday, he got into Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. He made a few “points”.

  • As a young (23) quarterback, Prescott creates a leadership void with the departure of Tony Romo, and the recent spate of legal/league rule violations reflect his lack of control over the roster.
  • That “sophomore slump” is coming because now the rest of the league has a year’s worth of games to study on him and they are going to solve things.
  • His remarkable rookie season was driven largely by a confluence of things that rarely come together for a young quarterback in the NFL.

Look, I get that Cowherd is there to drive ratings by stirring up controversy and stuff, and he is one of the leading lights of the trend in modern sports media towards throwing half-baked opinions out there. But still, these things are maddening.

First, the whole idea that some lack of leadership on Prescott’s part led to the suspension (confirmed, pending, or likely) for David Irving, Nolan Carroll, and Damien Wilson is ludicrous.

Irving did not violate any laws. He ran afoul of the rules about banned supplements. Not PEDs per se, but legal products that non-NFL players can buy and use. This was just a substance that the league has listed as not being approved (as I understand). Irving was provided with products that contained one or more of these banned supplements by a company he signed an endorsement deal with. His only real failure was not taking steps to make sure the products he was endorsing were indeed allowed by the NFL, trusting the company instead to have done the proper homework. Prescott’s leadership, or Romo’s for that matter, would hardly have headed off this problem.

Carroll was arrested for DWI after attending a party welcoming him to Dallas. He was signed as a free agent this year. As a new player to the team, as well as an established NFL veteran, it is also difficult to see just how this can be blamed on the leadership in the locker room or the larger overall culture of the team. Carroll did not have a reputation for this kind of infraction. It seems to have been a first time mistake by him. The only role being on the Cowboys could have played was that no longer being part of the Philadelphia Eagles may have led to over-celebration on his part. There certainly was no way Prescott could have exerted any real influence on Carroll in the brief time they have been on the team together - on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage, to boot.

Wilson’s situation is a bit murkier. The investigation into his arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is still ongoing, but the information that has come out is certainly troubling. He also has a strange history. Last season, he missed time in camp due to an eye injury allegedly caused during a paintball game. At least one Dallas beat reporter now has some doubts about that.

In any case, Wilson is hardly unique among NFL players for running afoul of the law, and thankfully there were no reported injuries from his actions. No matter how the situation plays out, this is entirely on Wilson and his incredibly stupid and dangerous reaction to a situation. We see these stories all over the league - and this is the first time I have seen such an offense laid at the feet of any quarterback for not exerting proper leadership. That is just ridiculous.

And Cowherd conveniently ignored a storyline reported by various beat writers that, you know, actually follow what is happening with the team. First, everyone with the Cowboys was struck by how quickly Prescott took command of the team and the offensive huddle. He acted like a leader, and the team responded. And part of the reason that the team elected to stick with Prescott even after Romo was healthy was that he had already won over most of the locker room. Remember, Romo was hardly on the field in 2015, and by the middle of last season, a lot of the newer players really had not played with him. They had been out there with Prescott, and they could see what was happening. Even the elder statesman of the offense, Jason Witten, accepted Prescott as his quarterback and praised him for his leadership. (To Romo’s enduring credit, when Witten discussed this with him, Romo told the Senator that he was doing the right thing in following Prescott on the field.)

As for the widely expected “slump”, Jon Machota at SportsDay put up a serendipitous article about Prescott that addressed this very topic.

One of the questions heading into the season will be if Prescott should be expected to endure a sophomore slump.


His success in Year 1 wasn't predicated on spectacular athletic ability or developing a connection with a dominant receiver. He was successful because he understood the position. He threw an historically low number of interceptions as a rookie because of his ability to read the defense, go through his options and get the ball to the open man. That's part of his DNA. He may take a few more chances in his second season, and should, but it won't appreciably change how he approaches the position.

Last season, I also addressed just what we were watching unfold. This was written just before the end of the eleven game winning streak. The hypothesis presented there was that Prescott’s greatest strength lay in what was between his ears.

Every bit of data shows that he possesses a simply incredible level of intelligence, and utilizes it with speed under pressure. Admittedly, he does have the advantage of that renowned offensive line to protect him and the league’s leading rusher to alleviate some of the pressure of moving the ball, but that speaks more to the overall success of the team than serving as any negative about Prescott’s accomplishments. Undoubtedly Prescott wound up in the best possible situation imaginable for a quarterback due to the superb talent surrounding him on the field, and he likely would not have nearly as much success if he had been forced into becoming the starter for some other team. But the talent for the Cowboys was somewhat similar last season, and Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore did not do anything at all with it.

It is early to be making these kinds of comparisons, but it is also hard to argue against the idea that Prescott is as far along or farther than other quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning were twelve games into their careers. That has to be attributed largely to the intelligence he possesses. That has just not been brought up as much as it seems it should have been so far. Everything we have seen says that Dak is simply a football genius.

While the coming opponents have that year of video to dissect, Prescott also has a full offseason of work improving himself - and all reports are that he has gone all in on that. Those foes are not facing the player they will see from 2016 - they will be facing an improved version.

One thing where Cowherd swerved close to reality as most know it was in his observation that there was a remarkable set of circumstances that came together for Prescott. He had the dominant offensive line, the league’s leading rusher (and one of the most complete running backs) in Ezekiel Elliott, an experienced and talented receiving corps, and a last place schedule. Then Cowherd rather shattered his argument by comparing Prescott’s rookie season to the second season of - wait for it - Tim Tebow with the Denver Broncos. Cowherd felt that Tebow’s seven regular season wins and one playoff victory were somehow the same kind of thing, due largely to a dominant defense and a weak schedule. The fact that the Broncos were heavily outscored overall with Tebow as quarterback and that the difference between his skills and Prescott’s as an NFL QB are stark were just glossed over.

And the fact is that those circumstances that Cowherd credited for Prescott’s success are still largely in place. The three perennial all Pro O linemen are still there. While RT and LG are still to be sorted out, the team seems well on its way to getting that taken care of. Elliott is back and looking to come out of the chute faster than he did as a rookie. The receiving corps is likely stronger, with Dez Bryant healthier than he was to start last year, Ryan Switzer an intriguing addition, and Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley ready to pick up right where they left off. Witten will still be there to be a security blanket (although Beasley is increasingly taking that role). Many questions remain about the defense, but the Cowboys certainly invested heavily in the offseason in trying to find ways to improve that side of the ball. If those investments pay off at all, Prescott and the offense will just benefit.

The one inarguable point is that the team is playing a first place schedule rather than a last place one. But that only involves two games - one of which is against the Green Bay Packers, who the Cowboys handled during the regular season (it just seems to be in the playoffs that Aaron Rodgers turns into a football demigod against Dallas). The rest of the schedule is the same for all the NFC East teams. And since all three of the Cowboys’ regular season losses came against division foes, that is one area where improvement can pay off hugely.

Something that Cowherd did not really bring up (at least during the part I heard) was the recent controversy over allegedly fake autographs on Prescott trading cards. That is the first real black mark on his time in Dallas, but in an article at the Ft Worth Star-Telegram site, writer Gil Lebreton brings up an interesting theory of his own.

Neither Prescott nor the Cowboys have responded publicly to the ESPN story, and they may well not. It’s entirely possible Dak didn’t even know somebody had mechanically signed some football cards for him.

But consider the source of the story, Beckett Media, based in Dallas. What better way to call attention to its newly formed Beckett Authentication Services than to have one of its two top authenticators, Steve Grad, blow an easy whistle on the Cowboys quarterback?

In the Prescott case, nobody is claiming anybody counterfeited anything. The whistle being blown smacks of Beckett grandstanding at Prescott’s expense.

Oh, well, surely this is another failure of leadership to lay at his feet, right?

It must be admitted that this is a site and a community that is naturally inclined to see Prescott in a favorable light. He is, after all, the man who allowed the Cowboys to make the usually difficult and often treacherous transition from one franchise quarterback to the next, more or less by accident. We won’t know how his second season plays out until, well, it plays out. But sometimes all the questioning and criticism gets under our skin and the urge to rise to his defense becomes overwhelming. His accomplishments are already remarkable. He deserves the benefit of the doubt about upcoming failures - especially criticisms as poorly founded as these.

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