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Cowboys news: Dak Prescott on track and with plenty of leverage

All the news you missed from Tuesday

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says QB Dak Prescott has leverage in contract talks - Todd Archer, ESPN

The last time the Cowboys tried to negotiate a long-term deal with Dak Prescott, there was debate about which side had more leverage. But after the Cowboys went 6-10 without Prescott, even Jerry Jones admits his quarterback has plenty of leverage this time around.

“I don’t know how you could have any more leverage,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “... His evolving into an NFL quarterback has been nothing short of a perfect picture. He has great ability, in my mind, to win games. He’s talented. He certainly has the experiences and he has all the things, which has been substantiated by what we’ve offered Dak. You wouldn’t offer Dak what we offered in the past if you’d not thought he was very special. The issue is, how do you come together? And that’s no stranger to me. I’ve been doing it all my life, putting things together. We’ve got to get it together.

The Cowboys and Prescott’s agent, Todd France, can resume negotiations on a long-term deal now that the team’s season is over. Once the sides did not reach an agreement on a contract last June 15, Prescott had to play the 2020 season on the $31.4 million franchise tag, and they could not reach a deal until after the season ended.

The Cowboys offered Prescott a deal that sources said averaged $34.5 million a year, included a $50 million signing bonus and had $110 million in guarantees. The biggest issue was the length of the term. The Cowboys wanted five years; France countered with four because impending television contracts are expected to significantly raise the salary cap in the future.

Dak Prescott’s Injury Recovery “On Course” - Rob Phillips, DallasCowboys.com

Dak Prescott has always been a warrior on the field, so it’s no surprise to hear that he’s recovering exceptionally well after the gruesome injury he suffered in 2020. While Mike McCarthy didn’t get into specifics on Tuesday, he did admit that Prescott is on track.

“I’m definitely looking forward to working with Dak full time,” McCarthy said. “He’s here every day going through rehab. He’s making progress, and just as you’d expect, he’s going after it full speed.

“As far as the timeline, I don’t have the specifics on when he’s going to be doing on-the-field work and dates and things like that. I don’t have that for you. But I do know based on the plan for his surgery and what he’s supposed to be doing and where he is, everything is right on course.”

After Prescott’s successful surgery in October, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones estimated that the two-time Pro Bowler will be able to return to on-field work sometime during the team’s voluntary spring offseason program.

Is Mike Nolan returning as Cowboys defensive coordinator? Jerry Jones isn’t saying - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News

Mike Nolan has been a frequent target of criticism all year long, even after some improved defensive play in the last half of the year. But while fans are still calling for the defensive coordinator to be fired, Jerry Jones isn’t ready to comment on that.

Nolan’s boss, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, wouldn’t answer two direct questions about it on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM] on Tuesday morning.

Jones, however, noted the number of big plays the Cowboys allowed and how it was a mistake to change defensive techniques and philosophies in the offseason, given there was no on-the-field work because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I really missed it, relative to how important that it might be to stay fixed with the same overall philosophy,” Jones said. “That one is on me. I’ll take that one.”

Jones said it was a lack of discipline as to why the Cowboys allowed 53 plays of 20 or more yards in the 2020 season.

“There’s not but one way to face this thing and that’s work, intense work,” Jones said. “Forget the people’s names on the positions. It’s just going to take a lot of work. People are going to be just as resolved as we are, that’s what makes this game so great. A lot of ways to make this thing happen. I’ve got all the incentive in the world to win and make winning decisions. No one shoves it out there and bets it as much as we bet it to win a ballgame or have our fans excited about the team.”

Cowboys’ Lawrence Speaks on Mike Nolan’s Scheme - Matthew Lenix, Inside the Star

One of the main roots of the problem for Mike Nolan’s defense comes from the difficulties of installing a new scheme in a virtual setting. DeMarcus Lawrence admitted as much on Tuesday, while talking about his respect for the embattled defensive coordinator.

“We went through some tough battles at the beginning of the season,” Lawrence said, via the team’s website. “Not me personally with Coach, but I’m just saying, in general, as a defense we went through tough battles. When you’re playing with young guys on defense you have to take into consideration that some things that are easy for me won’t be easy for the next person.”

The Cowboys ended the season on a high note going 3-1 over their last four games, mainly due to an improved defensive unit. They only allowed 20 points per game over that span which was almost 10 points lower than their average for the season (29.9). Also, they forced 12 turnovers, which was more than they had in the first 12 games (11).

Lawrence mentioned that Nolan made adjustments to his scheme to get better results on the field, which included more snaps for guys like Randy Gregory and second-year safety Donovan Wilson.

“I respect Mike as a man because he looked himself in the mirror and he changed some things to make us play faster and helped us play better,” Lawrence said. “I mean, it was later in the season, but we started to see improvements, and I think it really shined a light on the type of players we are.”

Leighton Vander Esch: “I’m On A Mission” - David Helman, DallasCowboys.com

Leighton Vander Esch, like the rest of the 2020 Dallas Cowboys, didn’t have the year he expected. As a result, the linebacker is already starting his offseason workout schedule, planning to remain in Dallas at The Star to focus on getting ready for 2021.

“I’m going to train my frickin’ butt off this offseason,” he said. “I’m not really going anywhere. I’m going home for two weeks and I’m coming right back. I’m going to be here training all the way through February, March and April. That’s just what it is. I’m already looking forward to it. I’m on a mission, and I think all the guys should be too.”

Inspiring words, but they also come amid plenty of uncertainty. All of the usual changes that accompany an NFL offseason are coming, from potential coaching shifts to roster turnover. And of course, it’d be impossible to predict how 2021 will be affected by the ongoing problem of COVID-19.

Vander Esch said he recognized all of that, but he doesn’t want it to affect how anyone handles their preparation. “Who knows what this offseason is going to look like moving forward, being like last year, but we’ve got to get things right,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to keep improving and keep working my hardest. We’ve got to have everybody pulling along.”

Stephen Jones says Cowboys are confident Tyron Smith, La’el Collins will return healthy from injuries - Dallas Morning News Staff

A big part of the Cowboys’ struggles on offense were the lack of bookend tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. While Smith played in a few games before being shut down, Collins never even appeared in a contest. While there has been questions about both players coming back next year, Stephen Jones feels confident about both star linemen.

How confident are you that Tyron Smith and La’el Collins will come back healthy and stay healthy in 2021?

Jones: “We feel good about both of them. We actually have been having those conversations already about our guys with our future, guys who are on our injured list. Feel good that, barring an unfortunate injury, the injuries that they have won’t, shouldn’t be a factor. Whether they play a full season or not next year, that they should fully recover and be ready to go. As you know, this game is a very physical game, and you never know what’s around the corner.

So, you have to be prepared. We got obviously this year more than our fair share of those types of injuries compared to what we had in the past. But those things happen and you have those challenges and you have to overcome those. But we’ll continue to evaluate our situation there and certainly make the decision that we think is in the best interest of getting our team back to where we want it to be.”

NFL 2020 first-year head coach grades: Class led by prowess of Kevin Stefanski, while Mike McCarthy falters - Patrik Walker, CBS Sports

Mike McCarthy’s hiring in Dallas a year ago was deemed a home run hire by many, and it led to some lofty expectations. That didn’t exactly pan out in a year complicated by COVID-19 and a swath of injuries.

Let me begin by restating my belief that the Cowboys made the right hire in McCarthy, but his inaugural season in Dallas can’t simply be slathered with the justifiable handicaps, any more than the others named here.

In the beginning, the slow start was easily attributable to issues with coaching installs and the subsequent confusion of players, and things only got worse when the team lost Tyron Smith, Blake Jarwin, La’El Collins, Dak Prescott and a slew of others for either the season or long stretches of time, but in the end, there were also several coaching decisions that will forever haunt McCarthy going into 2021 and beyond. Recency bias would have you focus on the ones from the implosion against the Giants — e.g., decision to not challenge a key fourth-quarter catch by Dante Pettis — but there are others, such as equating the thought of moving Zack Martin to right tackle as “fantasy football”, only to end up doing it anyway out of obvious necessity.

The hiring of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator also helped torpedo a season that might’ve otherwise been salvaged by a more capable mind, but instead ended as statistically the worst in the history of the NFL. McCarthy made his fair share of errors that helped keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs, but he also unleashed talent like safety Donovan Wilson and turned tight end Dalton Schultz into a starter, also rallying the troops to a three-game win streak in December that saw them go from a one percent chance of winning the NFC East to being close to actually doing it. There’s a lot to figure out this offseason in Dallas, but the head coach isn’t one of them, and that’s a great start as they head into a 2021 reboot that will again feature a list of top talent returned from injury.

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