Today we start a series of posts looking at each position group on the Dallas Cowboys roster, and determining just how much of a priority it will be this offseason.
Position Group - Quarterback
The most important position in football is the quarterback. That’s a generally agreed upon statement about NFL football. So how do the Cowboys stand at quarterback? When that question was asked about Dak Prescott last offseason the general answer was - franchise QB. This offseason, it’s a little more - franchise QB?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
Dallas is all in on Dak Prescott for one more year - at the very minimum. After Dak’s stellar, basically historical, first season, the follow up wasn’t nearly as good. That doesn’t mean that the first season was a fluke, it could mean this past season was the fluke. That’s what this year is all about. Finding out which Dak is the real deal.
While injuries and suspensions certainly hurt the offense, Dak regressed as the season wore on. A high-quality, franchise QB, more often than not, finds a way to perform despite the circumstances surrounding him and puts his team in a position to win. The Cowboys defense got better and better last year, so by the second half of the season, they were keeping the team in games into the second half. Dak had to put the team on his back in a few of those games in the second half of the year, when he was missing pieces, and that didn’t happen. Even when they did win games down the stretch, it felt like the defense was more of the reason.
Dak’s accuracy was certainly worse this year, and throwing the ball too high and too hard, especially on short to intermediate throws, was a big problem. One would surmise that has more to do with mechanics than anything else. Dak likes to throw shorter and quicker, the sooner the Cowboys realize that and alter the scheme some from the current vertical passing game, the better. But he has to make those passes count. In 2016, he was hitting a lot of receivers in stride allowing them to run with the ball. In 2017, many of those same passes were thrown high or out of reach. If they were caught, many times the receiver already had to change direction just to get to the pass, making ‘yards after the catch’ opportunities minimal.
There is a contingent of Cowboys observers who believe that Prescott was a different player after the Atlanta game. I believe there is some truth to that. He appeared less likely to go through his progressions and to trust his offensive line. The Cowboys pass routes, especially from the outside receivers, can take time to develop, and Jason WItten isn’t exactly a speed-demon either. Sometimes you have to wait it out an extra second in the pocket. Obviously he was under more duress in the second half of the year without Zeke Elliott and Tyron Smith, and the sack numbers and pressures went up dramatically. But again, there always seems to be that unquantifiable element to a franchise QB, and it’s how he somehow manages to make it work, even when stuff is going on around him that is out of his control. Receivers dropping passes, missing a key lineman, the play-calls seem wacky; somehow the great ones make it work. They don’t always get the win, but generally when they lose it’s not on their shoulders.
2018 is going to give us a much clearer picture of Prescott. Realistically, his performance in 2018 is likely to fall somewhere between the ‘16 stats and the ‘17 stats. Everybody is hoping it’s much closer to ‘16.
Cooper Rush is a complete unknown as a backup QB. Prescott is certainly durable, so Rush hasn’t seen much time. He looked tremendous in preseason action, but preseason wonders can be regular-season busts. We just don’t know. The Cowboys must really like what they see in practices from Rush, plus those preseason games, to keep him as the sole backup on the roster as an undrafted rookie.
Offseason Priority - Low
If the Cowboys make any changes here, it would probably be to either pick up a veteran free agent on the cheap, or take a flyer on a late-round pick/UDFA. They could do both for training camp and preseason. But in all likelihood, it will be Prescott and Rush again this season on the 53-man roster.
The Cowboys would do well to give Prescott a new weapon or two in the passing game. Perhaps that will come internally, from players like Ryan Switzer or Rico Gathers. Or externally from the draft or free agency. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and “Dakify” the offensive scheme some. There are definitely ways to take more advantage of what Prescott brings to the table.
In the end, though, it comes down to Prescott. Is he franchise, or is he not franchise? That is the question. 2018 should help clarify that.