We now resume our regularly scheduled speculation about the Dallas Cowboys. After a brief moment of worry about Ezekiel Elliott getting hit with another suspension when he was summoned to meet with Roger Goodell, we all were able to take a deep breath of relief when the matter was both fairly and expeditiously resolved, with no more cost to Elliott than a contrite (and possibly league-approved) statement of remorse over what happened in Vegas (which goes to show you shouldn’t put too much faith in things staying there in the era of phone cams and social media). Now we can return our full focus to the coming season and what the team will be like.
And no matter how you come at it, there is one clear element that will make or break 2019 for the Cowboys. That is Dak Prescott.
This is not just a restatement of the principle that the quarterback is the most important player on any NFL roster. More than just that, it reflects just how much Dallas has done to get all the rest of the aquatic waterfowl properly aligned. Prescott is both the last link in the chain, and arguably the only one whose failure will ruin things for this team.
The only way to really illustrate this is to go with the old laundry list approach. Here are the things that the team has set up for success.
- The offensive line has, for years, been the foundation the offensive identity was built on. After a disappointing 2018, things should be markedly better with Travis Frederick back in the middle, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin healthy and still playing at elite levels. Connor Williams and La’el Collins both believed ready to take a step forward, and the depth in good shape, with Joe Looney and Cameron Fleming back while Connor McGovern has been added. That should eliminate a lot of the issues the offense had last season.
- As mentioned, Zeke no longer has the threat of a suspension hanging over him, and he is just the best running back in the league. He has durability, strength, and explosiveness. Of course, there is the worry he could finally miss time due to injury, but let me throw some gasoline on the whole debate about the true value of running backs. Big rushing numbers in a game or in a season are volume stats. If you have a running back who averages 4.5 yards per carry or higher (Elliott was at 4.7 in 2018, even behind that compromised line and with Scott Linehan effectively telegraphing many running plays), you just give him the ball 20 times a game, and voila, you have 100 yards. Give him an average of 15 carries a game, and you have a 1,000 yard rusher. Now, with Tony Pollard added to the mix and Darius Jackson competing with Mike Weber for the likely third halfback job, the team has depth to ensure the running game still has to be accounted for even if Elliott is not on the field. Let’s face it, running effectiveness is probably more a factor of the blocking and the play-calling/design than pure talent. Dallas will run the ball well.
- The wide receiver group was a major headache to start last season. Now, the starting trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb is downright mouth-watering. And the competition in camp for the rest of the spots on the 53-man roster could be epic, with talent and speed all over the place.
- Jason Witten is back, and early indications are that a year off has made him fresher. As far as his determination and savvy, that was never in question. Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz showed some improvement at the year went along in his absence, so things should be just fine at tight end.
- The defensive line has more talent and depth than it has in decades. DeMarcus Lawrence is back on his new deal, Robert Quinn was obtained in a trade, Maliek Collins could be fully healthy for the first time in his career, Antwaun Woods was the find of the 2018 offseason for the Cowboys, and free agency and the draft were used to shore things up even more.
- Dallas has the best trio of starting linebackers in the league in Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee. Don’t even try to argue the point.
- The secondary returns all the starters and key backups from a solid group last year, and some pieces were added to make things better. The team did not invest nearly as much as they did on the defensive line, but there are limited resources for that, and even if things just stay much the same, this group should be just fine.
- Of course, the biggest move of the offseason was the promotion of Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. But his success in the new job is tied directly to Prescott. It is safe to assume that the OC and QB already have a better working relationship than Linehan and Prescott had last year. That alone should pay big dividends.
So the only thing that could go wrong is if Prescott is not what the team clearly thinks he is. That has been the subject of often heated debate, and will continue to be so until it is answered in games. But it is worth noting that, in general, the closer people are to the situation, the more faith they seem to have in Prescott.
That starts with the staff of the team. There is no question they are all in on Prescott. As for Cowboys media, many, including here, have suggested that Prescott is the real deal and have faith in his future. In the interests of full disclosure, I am firmly in the same camp. If Prescott (who has never missed a game in his short career) stays healthy, he will be the catalyst for a successful season.
The only way things could go awry is if all of us who see his trajectory as being clearly upward are wrong, and those who are more pessimistic are right.
The concept of being “Dak friendly” has been bandied about. The roster headed into training camp is about as much that as can be imagined, and that includes the defense as well. More importantly, all actual signs point to Prescott being truly “Cowboys friendly”.
Good things are coming. Soon.