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New study shows the Cowboys have been hanging their quarterbacks out to dry

Observers of the Cowboys won’t find this surprising.

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Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It’s not exactly a new concept that the Cowboys front office, led by Jerry and Stephen Jones, has done little to bolster their rosters and give the team a legitimate shot at winning a Super Bowl. It seems as if this talking point comes up every year, in one way or another, and often at critical junctures of the season.

The younger Jones has often used a refrain of focusing on saving cap space in order to better surround their top talent with weapons, thereby creating a Super Bowl roster. However, the Joneses failed to do that for the entire 14-year career of franchise quarterback Tony Romo, and with Dak Prescott set to enter his seventh season, they’ve failed to do so for him as well.

NFL history is rife with examples of quarterbacks who performed at a high level but lacked the supporting cast necessary to propel the team to a championship. That’s what Mike Sando of The Athletic looks at in his NFL QB Betrayal Index.

This index looked at quarterbacks from the past decade that have accumulated at least 30 starts in both the regular season and playoffs and examined how wide the chasm was between the expected points added (EPA) of the offense and the defense/special teams. Teams with a large discrepancy between their offense and the rest of the team were deemed to have betrayed their quarterback the most.

It came as little surprise to see both Romo and Prescott appear pretty high on this list, but the actual results were staggering. In total, the index has 54 quarterbacks in its sample size, and they’re ranked by how much each quarterback was betrayed. Prescott came in at 13th while Romo was third.

In Romo’s case, his career spanned three different coaching regimes, one of which (Jason Garrett) involved a rebuild-on-the-fly of sorts. Out of all 54 quarterbacks in the index, Romo and his offenses ranked sixth in offensive EPA while his defense/special teams ranked 47th, thus the high betrayal rate. And while Romo had a career record of 32-20, he was 16-18 in games where his defense/special teams recorded a negative EPA; that record isn’t good but it’s the seventh best among these quarterbacks, showcasing just how hard it is to win when your team lets you down.

Sando went on to explain Romo’s career in this context:

Romo’s reputation for failing to win the big games gets some context here. His 32-20 overall mark over the past decade includes 16-2 when the Cowboys finished games with positive combined EPA on defense/special teams. Only Mahomes, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had better win rates in those games over the past decade.

Prescott’s career has been more interesting, as his teams have always been competitive. In fact, the only season in which Prescott has finished with a losing record as a starter was the 2020 season, where he only played five games.

It’s not a stretch to say the Cowboys have been better at talent acquisition during Prescott’s career than for Romo - and it’s noteworthy that Will McClay was already firmly entrenched as the Cowboys’ lead draft man by the time Prescott joined the team. As such, Prescott doesn’t have as wide of a betrayal index as Romo, but he’s still 13th in the NFL over the past decade.

Among the quarterbacks in this study, Prescott’s offenses have ranked seventh in EPA - just one spot behind Romo, for the record - while his defense/special teams have ranked 22nd. Sando notes that the Cowboys’ historically good defense this past season is a big reason why Prescott’s betrayal index wasn’t higher:

The Cowboys ranked third in combined defense/special-teams EPA last season, posting four of their five best single-game performances of the Prescott era. Similar production could be helpful this season if Dallas falls off on offense with a lesser receiving corps.

While the raw numbers aren’t provided in Sando’s index, it’s easy to presume that Prescott would have yielded a much higher betrayal index were it not for the defense being so great last year. His overall betrayal index score of -15 comes shortly after a steep drop-off from the top 11 on this list, and Dan Quinn’s defense last year likely saved Prescott from vaulting well into the top 10 here.

That wouldn’t really change much anyway, because Prescott coming in at 13th on this list is still inexcusable. While his 54-35 career record as a starter gives Prescott one of the best winning percentages of this bunch, he’s still 22-24 in games where the defense/special teams recorded a negative EPA. That’s sixth-best on this list, a strong endorsement of the quarterback, but it accounts for nearly 52% of all of Prescott’s starts, an entirely too high number.

Furthermore, the fact that each of the Cowboys’ franchise quarterbacks of the last decade-plus are both among the top 15 quarterbacks most let down by their team is an embarrassment and a scathing indictment of how this front office runs the team. Not a single soul is surprised by this, but it’s oddly comforting to have statistical evidence of this right before beginning a season in which Prescott will be asked to do even more with even less.

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