Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2020 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 5.
Dak Prescott bet on himself by playing on the franchise tag and not accepting a long-term deal from the Dallas Cowboys. Before delving into the exact finances, it made football sense too.
The Cowboys might have the best offense outside of Kansas City this season. Prescott will lead it. Quarterbacks hypnotize voters to the point no other position is considered anymore (with the rare exception of record-setting running backs). See where this is going?
The Cowboys have an elite running back, top-five offensive line (even without retired center Travis Frederick) and selected perhaps the best receiver in the draft to go with their two established playmakers. Prescott threw for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns last season and arguably has a better situation this season. There is an endless supply of social-media debates about how good Prescott really is, but a 5,000-yard season with 30-plus touchdowns and an NFC East title is on the table. And it’s not like the quarterback of the Cowboys won’t get an inordinate amount of attention. It’s a perfect MVP storm.
It would also put Prescott into a new stratosphere when it comes to his next contract.
That’s a problem for another day, and if Prescott ends up winning MVP or close to it, that means the Cowboys had quite a season. Last year was a massive disappointment, as the Cowboys went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Jason Garrett was finally let go as head coach, in a strange way only Dallas could pull off. Mike McCarthy was hired to replace him.
If McCarthy is reenergized from a year off and has freshened up an offense that got stale with the Green Bay Packers, he can be a long-awaited upgrade from Garrett. Most Cowboys fans would agree that a change was needed. Maybe McCarthy, who posted a 125-77-2 record and 10 playoff appearances in 13 Packers seasons, is exactly what Dallas and Prescott needs.
Even if you want to give most of the credit to Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy had a top-10 offense in yards or points nine times with the Packers. He has overseen plenty of successful quarterback play, and says Prescott has potential to do big things.
“Defenses get you to the championship. The quarterbacks win championships,” McCarthy said. “And I definitely think Dak is that quarterback.”
Prescott will need help to get a championship. The defense is being retooled after some key losses this offseason. McCarthy needs to prove he’s the coach he was early on with the Packers, not the coach who seemed to be wasting Aaron Rodgers late in his time there. The offensive players around Prescott will have to live up to their hype too.
If it all comes together and Prescott wins a Super Bowl or MVP or both, Jerry Jones will practically hand him a blank check next offseason and ask Prescott to fill in the numbers.
As important as Prescott’s contract situation is to the Cowboys, they have a season to play before figuring it out.
Dak Prescott’s contract was again a constant story through Dallas’ offseason. He’ll play on the franchise tag, which you might hear about a time or two before next offseason. Dallas’ addition of receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round of the draft was the jewel of a class that was universally praised and made people forget about losses like cornerback Byron Jones and pass rusher Robert Quinn in free agency. Center Travis Frederick retired, which was another key loss. Free-agent additions like quarterback Andy Dalton, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, kicker Greg Zuerlein and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should help, and the Cowboys hope a strong draft has a big impact.
The debate about Dak Prescott’s worth is well worn, but not signing the Cowboys’ long-term deal could turn out well for him. If the Cowboys use the franchise tag twice on Prescott he’ll make about $69.1 million in two years and then become the most coveted free agent ever at age 28. That assumes Prescott plays to his normal level and doesn’t get hurt, and also there should be some trepidation about what happens with NFL finances going forward. It seems like a worthwhile gamble. Aside from Kirk Cousins, quarterbacks like Prescott don’t hit free agency in their 20s. The Cowboys’ hesitation on Prescott and their denial of the fact that Prescott is practically guaranteed nearly $70 million over the next two years puts them in danger of losing their quarterback soon.
Amari Cooper is still a mystery. He’s very good, but he also has a tendency to disappear for stretches.
"There's something holding him back," one NFL personnel man told ESPN.com. "He was the best receiver on the market and I didn't want to sign him."
Cooper’s inconsistency was summed up on one play. Last season in Week 16, with the NFC East on the line and Dallas trailing the Philadelphia Eagles 17-9, Cooper wasn’t on the field for a fourth-down play with 1:21 left. Jane Slater of NFL Network said the Cowboys wanted Tavon Austin in because his quickness gave the Eagles problems. You would never see the New Orleans Saints rotate Michael Thomas out on a key play, or the Green Bay Packers give Davante Adams a rest with the game on the line.
Cooper was paid a five-year, $100 million contract this offseason. His final numbers are always good but there seems to be another level Cooper could reach, if he can avoid the quiet games that are too regular for him.
II’ll take just about every optimistic wager on Dallas this season at BetMGM. Even money to win the NFC East? Sure. Over 4,329.5 passing yards for Dak Prescott? Without a second thought, and let’s add on over 26.5 touchdown passes. Over 9.5 wins? A slight pause due to -164 odds on the over but ultimately a yes. Cap it off with a little bit of Prescott for MVP at +1200 odds.
From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “It’s very difficult to talk down the Cowboys’ offense from a fantasy perspective; this team has playmakers all over. But perhaps the price on Michael Gallup could be an eyelash inflated. He’s unlikely to be the team’s No. 1 wideout so long as Amari Cooper is in town, and rookie CeeDee Lamb looks like an instant contributor. And the Pokes offense has many other mouths to feed — bell cow Zeke Elliott, emerging tight end Blake Jarwin, the occasional touchdown run from quarterback Dak Prescott.
“Gallup roasted Washington for three touchdowns in Week 17 last year, but otherwise has a modest five career spikes in 29 games. He’s a good player, but just recognize you might be drafting him around his ceiling.”
Only three teams in NFL history have had a point differential of plus-113 or better and failed to finish above .500, according to Pro Football Reference: 1950 Philadelphia Eagles (plus-113), 1989 Cincinnati Bengals (plus-119) and the 2019 Cowboys (plus-113). The Cowboys were much better than their 8-8 record. Their point differential and Football Outsiders’ DVOA rating agree: The Cowboys profiled as an 11-win team. The Cowboys were the No. 6 team in the NFL in DVOA. The Cowboys’ undoing was an 0-6 record in games decided by 8 points or less. Give them a .500 record in those games and they would have been 11-5 ... exactly what advanced stats say they should have been. The Cowboys weren’t the mediocre team you remember from last season, they were just really bad in close games.
Can the Cowboys have four 1,000-yard players?
Only two teams in NFL history have had three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The 1995 Atlanta Falcons did it, as did the 2004 Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys could be the third. Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb all have the ability to pass 1,000 yards this season. The 2004 Colts are probably the standard bearer in this category; Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley all had 1,000 yards receiving and Edgerrin James still posted 1,548 rushing yards. It’s worth noting that Peyton Manning, the quarterback of the 2004 Colts, won MVP.
It’s hard to believe that the Cowboys haven’t been past the divisional round of the playoffs since January of 1996. The drought could end this season. The Cowboys could have the NFC’s best offense. The defense lost some pieces but should still be middle of the road. The Cowboys’ poor record in close games won’t repeat, especially if Mike McCarthy is an upgrade over Jason Garrett. Dak Prescott winning an MVP, leading an offense with a 1,000-yard back and two or three 1,000-yard receivers and taking the team to a Super Bowl is not hard to imagine.
It’s easy to get caught up in the stars on offense and ignore the Cowboys had a defense that was just OK last season and lost some key players. Let’s also not forget that Mike McCarthy was criticized endlessly near his time in Green Bay because it seemed the game passed him by. A year off doesn’t necessarily fix that. It’s also possible Dak Prescott doesn’t play his best due to pressure surrounding his uncertain future. Perhaps the Cowboys will end up being one of those teams that scores a lot of points but can’t win enough to make the playoffs. Kind of like last season.
The NFC doesn’t have a scary favorite or two like the AFC. It’s a more wide-open conference, so why not the Cowboys? I can see this team winning the NFC East and making a playoff run. I don’t know that I can confidently pick the Cowboys to go all the way to the Super Bowl, but they should be in the mix. Then we get another offseason of Dak Prescott contract drama, but with an even bigger price tag for Jerry Jones.
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