In the aftermath of the Cowboys’ trade for QB Trey Lance, some have expressed concern over how Dak Prescott will react to this surprisingly bold move. Could it potentially damage the veteran’s relationship with Dallas, especially with a major contract negotiation on the horizon?
Given how Prescott’s own NFL career started, it’d be rather hypocritical for him to now fault the Cowboys for investing in the future QB position. He’s only here because they did the same thing in 2016, and the man who brought an arguably premature end to Tony Romo’s run can hardly allow Trey Lance’s presence to rattle him now.
To be clear, we’re not saying that Prescott is, or will be, bothered by Lance’s presence. Nothing about the man we’ve come to know over the last seven years suggests that, nor does anything he’s said or done in the few days since the trade was announced.
True, Prescott did seem a bit deflated following Saturday’s preseason finale. But it was clearly an emotional night for the QB room as they sent Will Grier off in style. After calling plays against the Raiders and being a big part of the evening, Prescott’s unusually somber mood was more likely about his departing friend than the guy replacing him.
That said, the Lance acquisition does put Prescott in new territory. Dallas has only drafted two other quarterbacks since him, spending a fifth-round pick on Mike White in 2018 and a seventh on Ben DiNucci in 2020. Neither move came close to threatening QB1’s current or future status with the Cowboys.
While Dallas only gave up a fourth-round pick to get Trey Lance, his name recognition certainly takes this investment to a much different level. He was the third-overall pick in 2021 and is still just 23 years old. Former highly-drafted quarterbacks like Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, and Mark Sanchez were already either well-aged or certified busts by the time the Cowboys picked them up.
Given his youth and pedigree, Lance is arguably the most significant investment of talent Dallas has added at quarterback in the last 30 years. They did spend a second-round pick on Quincy Carter in 2001 and traded a third in 2005 for Drew Henson, but those still didn’t come with the hype of this move given where Lance stood among his draft class just two years ago.
So yes, such an uncharacteristically big move at quarterback rightfully set off a fervor last Friday night. But even if his fans want to feel a certain way about it, Dak Prescott certainly has no business sharing their angst. Not given the way his own presence was validated as a rookie and the loyalty the Cowboys showed him over his predecessor.
If you’re reading this article then you know the story; Prescott went from third to second on the depth chart after QB Kellen Moore was injured during training camp. Despite negative reports about his camp performance, which had him in a dogfight with former QB-turned-safety Jameill Showers, Prescott proved he was a gamer with lights-out play in the preseason.
Then Tony Romo’s injury in Seattle happened. Prescott became the starting quarterback and, after losing the season opener, helped lead an eight-game win streak. Romo conceded the starting job to the rookie at that point, then headed for the broadcast booth the following spring.
While Dak Prescott earned the right to remain the Cowboys' starter, Romo certainly had earned the right to keep that job once he got healthy. We’ll never know for sure how much Romo’s choice was from his own heart versus being a company man, but the end result was an incredibly gracious gift to Prescott.
There are some key differences to acknowledge between 2016 and now. Romo was 35 years old and entering his 11th season as the starter, while Prescott just turned 30 and is beginning only his eighth season. And while Prescott has had the major injury in 2020 and the five missed games last year, Romo’s injury history was far more concerning going into 2016.
You could look at that and say spending a fourth-round pick on Prescott in 2016 made more sense than using one now on Lance. Finding a quality backup for Romo, with some hope of future starting potential, was a practical move at that stage in his career. Comparatively, it could seem like Dallas is jumping the gun now by putting Lance on the depth chart with Prescott still arguably in his prime.
But a key thing to remember here is that what Prescott did in 2016 was borderline miraculous for where he was drafted. Nobody expected that from the fourth-round rookie, who outshined first-round picks like Carson Wentz and Jared Goff and continues to do so. The Cowboys season should have ended when Romo was lost during that preseason game, but they had the good fortune to have landed one of the biggest steals of modern NFL Draft history.
Prescott may be younger and sturdier than Tony Romo was in 2016, but he’s still just one bad moment away from wearing street clothes again. Instead of your season going up in smoke, why not give yourself as good a chance as possible to stay competitive?
No, Trey Lance probably won’t grab his helmet before Cooper Rush does this year. But now he gets valuable time to learn the system and his teammates, plus get mentored by a host of experienced guides. Maybe that pays off down the road and maybe it doesn’t, but sacrificing just a fourth-round pick to take the chance is good business.
Dak Prescott should understand the business side of this as well as anyone. It was business that kept him as QB1 midway through the 2016 season and led to Tony Romo’s end in Dallas. How untimely that end was is up for debate, but it certainly wasn’t a time that Jerry Jones allowed sentiment to rule his thinking.
Seven years later, Trey Lance has arrived because the Cowboys are still in the same business of winning football games. Whether he eventually contributes to that goal remains to be seen, but it’s an investment that nobody, including Dak Prescott, should take personally.