If there ever has been any uncertainty during his time with the Cowboys, he has not shown it. From his first preseason game on Aug. 13, 2016, in front of 89,140 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, to his 64 regular-season starts and three playoff starts since, Prescott has been a picture of calm, even if his mind might have been racing.
But are Prescott and the Cowboys in the midst of a slow breakup, one that’s more about the salary cap changing rather than any personal discontent? It’s a situation that will come to a head after this season, or possibly the next. If Prescott, who will play the 2020 season on the $31.4 million exclusive franchise tag, is worried, he hasn’t said it, coaches can’t tell and teammates don’t notice.
Sunday’s season opener at the Los Angeles Rams (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) will mark Prescott’s fifth year as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback and perhaps the most critical of his career as he looks to forever etch his name into the fabric of a franchise that is turning 60 years old.
“There’s never a doubt in my mind if he’s going to be ready for the season,” Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “He’s going to go out there and perform and lead us the way he is capable of doing. Dak’s a pro. He’s going to be ready.”
While Prescott’s contract, future, level of play and pitchman skills are discussed almost daily on national programs and local talk radio, he is more concerned about what is directly in front of him.
“I seize the moment. I focus on the now,” he said. “I think it’s very important for me to do exactly that and not to be distracted or put too much focus anywhere other than what it is that I’m doing now.”
Prescott, 27, begins the regular season coming off an offseason like no other. He was unable to secure a long-term extension with the Cowboys after months of negotiations. His fellow class of 2016 quarterbacks, Jared Goff, of the Los Angeles Rams, and Carson Wentz, of the Philadelphia Eagles, were able to secure deals that guaranteed them more than $100 million each last summer. Two quarterbacks from the class of 2017, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, signed lucrative extensions recently that guaranteed them more than $100 million apiece.
But Prescott has to wait at least until January to get his long-term reward.
With the NFL’s salary cap expected to lower in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the issues that prevented a deal between Prescott and the Cowboys from getting done in July will only be magnified. If the Cowboys have to use the franchise tag again, it will cost them $37.7 million.
Only two NFL quarterbacks have played at least one season on a franchise tag (Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins) and neither re-signed a long-term deal with their teams, although the circumstances are not the same as Prescott and the Cowboys.
In the meantime, Prescott, who had his best statistical season in 2019 with 4,902 yards and 30 touchdown passes, will make nearly eight times more in salary this season than he made in his first four with the tag.
“I hope and believe I will be a Dallas Cowboy for the rest of my career,” Prescott said at the start of training camp last month.
For the first time in Prescott’s pro career, he has a new coach, with Mike McCarthy replacing Jason Garrett, so there’s an unknown of how the relationship will work. The contract talks and the pandemic prevented Prescott and McCarthy from getting to know each other this offseason. They had spoken less than a handful of times before training camp began.
McCarthy’s history with quarterbacks is one of the major reasons Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones hired the 56-year-old as coach. Prescott’s first meeting with McCarthy came over lunch when they discussed McCarthy’s past, working with Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who have a combined six Super Bowl wins. The Cowboys’ quarterbacks, including Prescott, Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci, have watched cut-ups of Montana taking drops from center as well as other fundamentals from Favre and Rodgers.
“It’s something he’s very open about and talks about what he knows and what he’s learned — good or bad — from the past and how that’s going to benefit us as a team,” Prescott said of McCarthy. “That’s just one of those things that’s so genuine about him. He’s a guy’s guy. We’re very fortunate to have him and excited about where he’s going to take us.”
Off the field, Prescott publicly waded into social justice issues for the first time this offseason. He pledged $1 million — and “maybe way more,” he said — to help fund nationwide police reform. He wrote a letter to the office of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt asking for death-row inmate Julius Jones to be freed. As the Cowboys’ players have discussed ways to use their platforms to eradicate social injustice, Prescott has been among the leaders.
Matthew Berry loves Dak Prescott because he consistently gets you points with his legs and his arm, he has talent all around him and because he’s playing for a deal.
“There’s no reason still, me as a starting quarterback in the NFL, should be nervous the moment sirens are turned on, but that’s just the way it is,” Prescott said. “We can somehow shrink or somehow take down that barrier, those nerves or anxiousness or whatever that may be, by bettering our law enforcement. I don’t think the answer is defunding them. We need protection. We need what they offer, but we all know that there is some corruptness within that, and I think it has to start within as anything does when you’re trying to get the bad out and create good.”
A very different offseason
The most crushing moment of Prescott’s offseason, however, came in April.
Prescott’s brother Jace, who was four years his senior, died. There was no official word on his death, but Prescott is incredibly tight with his brothers Jace and Tad. The brothers even filmed a Campbell’s Chunky Soup advertisement with Dak last year. And Dak said Jace was the reason he became a quarterback in the first place.
Prescott has dealt with personal loss before. As a sophomore at Mississippi State, his mother, Peggy, died from cancer.
“I know I have the obligation to live on and carry on another legacy,” Prescott said. “So now it’s not just my mother, it’s my brother as well. I will continue to do that in every walk of my life.”
When Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup‘s brother, Andrew, died during the 2018 NFL season, Prescott was there offering consolation. Gallup, teammates, coaches and front-office staff were there for Prescott in return this spring.
“You just need to be there for him, but at the same time you don’t want to cloud him, don’t want to smother him or anything like that,” Gallup said. “… I gave him his space because I know when it happened to me, I needed a little bit of space, but I also needed people there for me as well.”
Prescott immersed himself in work — on himself and his game. He continued his offseason workouts with former NFL quarterback turned trainer John Beck at 3DQB. He had a 55-yard football field built in his backyard and hosted Cowboys teammates for workouts that helped build chemistry and get them up to speed on McCarthy’s terminology changes.
When training camp began, it was as if Prescott had a normal offseason. In reality, it had been anything but normal.
“Obviously, not being a part of the offseason was a little bit of a setback, but Dak prepared himself in his way and since the day he got here, he was on top of things, like all of us, though, going through an adjustment from a communication and terminology standpoint, different things that we’re doing,” Cowboys quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier said. “We all have a learning curve, and Dak has done an outstanding job. I feel great about where he is today and where we’re headed.”
The Cowboys and Prescott are about to embark on what they hope is a 22-week journey that ends at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, the site of Super Bowl LV.
There will be twists foreseen and turns unforeseen as the Cowboys look to end the franchise’s championship drought at 25 years. And to get there, Prescott will have to be ready for the moment. Maybe more than ever.
“My fire is burning and my fire is big. You can throw whatever you want in there for it to burn and for it to get bigger,” Prescott said. “I don’t know if I’m necessarily trying to prove something to the Cowboys or to this team because I feel like everybody in this building, this organization knows the player I am, knows the man that I am, knows where my heart stands.
“I just want to be great.”