If ‘line one’ is winning for all the teams in the National Football League, then ‘line two’ has to be finding and developing a franchise quarterback. The Dallas Cowboys believe they have the right guy for the job in Dak Prescott so now it’s time to double-down on that commitment. Though many teams in this league would commit crimes to have a quarterback complete his first two years like Prescott has, the downward trajectory of his second season has some people nervous.
Without rehashing all of the statistics, it safe to say that Prescott took a step backwards in 2017 even if he may have been shoved a little by his own teammate’s misfortunes. The only statistical category that rose from 2016 to 2017 was the amount of passes Dak attempted per game. After the struggles of this past season, there’s a quiet sense of urgency around this coaching staff that is turning over more than a handful of position coaches. The organization knows that you can never get back lost time and they’re wasting no time shaking things up:
“I think that’s what this offseason is about. That’s what these position coaches are about,” said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. “To change it up, change it up more during the season, from the beginning to the middle to the end of the season. I think you’ll see a lot more variation in what we’re doing. Variation in terms of schemes, technique, I think you’re going to see more variation.”
As refreshing as new coaching hires can be that’s nowhere near the work that has to be completed this offseason. We’ve been seeing the term “Dak-Friendly” surface quite a bit much like it was close to a decade ago with Tony Romo. Though the specifics aren’t defined of what that term encompasses, it needs to mean that almost every decision made in the coming months should have a positive effect on their developing quarterback.
As my esteemed colleague Tom Ryle pointed out in his “Dak-Friendly” piece, this was an offense largely built for a guy who is no longer here. It matters less about who the Cowboys bring in to replace assistant coaches and more about what they plan to do in efforts to make this a tailor-made fit for Dak.
To call for a more “friendly” environment for the quarterback suggests that there was a pretty darn “unfriendly” one this past season. In reality, the team around him was largely the same one that he set the league on fire with in his rookie season. Circumstances came into play and despite the mantra of Jason Garrett, this team was never able to become their best in 2017. Nobody feels sorry for the Murphy’s Law aspect the Cowboys’ faced, the Packers went 4-7 without Aaron Rodgers. It’s the nature of the sport.
So, how do the Cowboys create a team that fits Dak Prescott like his left-hand glove? Well, it’s a laundry list of items but it starts with evaluating their coaching performance as they are doing now.
They’ll have to accept that a vertical passing offense is maybe not the best style for Prescott. They’ll have to relinquish stubborn habits and open themselves up to fresh ideas that allow Dak to get the ball out quick, allowing his weapons to make plays. Most importantly, they know their identity as a run-first team with perhaps the leagues best running back in Ezekiel Elliott. Still, that doesn’t mean they pigeon-hole themselves by limiting opportunities for creativity.
The next evaluation has already begun with their own roster and finding areas in which they can improve. They were rumored to be looking heavily at wide receivers and offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl. There is an obvious realization that they need to put more talent around Dak. As much as it pains me to say it, they don’t have to look far for inspiration, the Eagles are about to play in the Super Bowl after committing multiple resources to the talent around Carson Wentz. It’s going to require taking risks and some may pan out, others won’t, but that’s just football.
When I say decisions the Cowboys make must include the element of Dak Prescott, it extends to the defense as well. One successful method in helping young quarterbacks is by putting a defense around them that can help them recover quickly from error and take pressure off them entirely. Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Wentz, and Jared Goff all benefited from good defenses. Complementary football was good to the Cowboys in 2016 and they have to figure out a way to get back there.
Dak Prescott is entering a very important year with a lot at stake. The question that the front office must continue to ask themselves throughout the offseason is just how each decision impacts Dak Prescott. The NFL is still a quarterback-driven league even if a few average passers got lucky this season. It’s all about the quarterback, and always will be about the quarterback, which makes it all the more imperative that the Cowboys maximize the potential around their guy. If they fail to do so, you better believe that there will be far more vacancies to fill than that of a few position coaches next year.