Dak Prescott isn't sitting and sulking, nor does he subscribe to the "woe is me" mantra. Quite the opposite really, because despite having suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 against the New York Giants -- this season marking the first in which he's missed a single NFL start, let alone multiple ones -- the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback has long been busy rehabilitating his ankle following surgery in October, with one eye on doing what he can to help emotionally support the Dallas Cowboys in their floundering 3-8 season and the other on returning to the field as soon as possible.
It's been a tough calendar year for the 27-year-old, which unfortunately includes the loss of his brother Jace, but he's now become a vocal mental health advocate and he's using his platform to affect change however he can. That includes doling out sage advice to NFL rookies -- reminding them what it takes to make it as a professional.
"Don't take anything you're doing for granted," he said, via NFL.com's Pepsi Rookie Roundtable. "Whether it's a walk-through ... no matter how big it is or how small it is -- don't take it for granted because it's a blessing."
Prescott went on to explain why, namely because adversity can arrive at any moment, as he can currently attest.
"As my career just in a snapshot, I've been able to play every level of my career because the guy in front of me has gotten injured," he noted. "So I know what it means to be ready, to stay ready in case a guy gets injured in front of you. And now to be that guy that's injured, for the first time in my career, I'm missing the rest of the season. It's different. It's tough."
Of course, it's his 2016 replacement of Tony Romo -- who himselfbetween Prescott and the Cowboys -- that propelled Prescott into the NFL limelight. At Mississippi State, he took the reins as starter when Tyler Russell missed time, and never looked back. This is all to say, well, Prescott knows what he's talking about.
The former NFL Rookie of the Year is making strides in his 2020 recovery though, and remains on track to return to the field in time for offseason conditioning -- assuming the league calendar isn't again derailed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During the first five games with Prescott under center, the Cowboys offense averaged over 32 points per game and despite the slow 2-3 start, the record being more attributable to what was then a historically bad defense that allowed over 36 points per game.
Prescott himself battled some turnover issues as he consistently tried to save the day behind a patchwork offensive line, but was still racking up numbers at a historic pace before his injury -- including three consecutive games of over 450 yards and one above the 500-yard mark (the first player in league history to do so). In his absence, the offense has stalled, with neither Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci nor Garrett Gilbert ever to get it anywhere near the standard set by Prescott. Still, while working through his own personal darkness to remain in the light, his focus isn't simply on getting healthy for himself, but for the Cowboys.
"For me, as I talk about the mental capacity, it's about creating and making small victories," he said of his progress. "Each and every day, when I wake up and I go in for rehab, it's about, for me, seeing my leg or seeing my body do something that it didn't do the day before or creating a feeling that I didn't have the day before -- so I know that I'm continuing to get better. And at the end of the day, I know my team needs me. I know that they need me now for support but they'll need me again later, so it's about helping them, whichever way that I can and however I can.
"It's about being right mentally and then counting those small victories."
And for those who would see Prescott divorced from Dallas to utilize a potential top-5 pick on a quarterback? Not only is that stance gutted by the reality of how NFL football actually works -- as seen in my CBS Sports column explaining it -- but the Cowboys are just as thirsty to see Prescott return as he is to get back on the field. Given his record-setting four-plus year career, a career win-loss record of 43-29 and what he means emotionally to the locker room and organization, it's a foregone conclusion talks will pick up again once the season concludes and if a long-term deal isn't reached by the franchise tag deadline, expect Prescott to be tagged a second time to buy the Cowboys until July 15 to try and finally hammer out a multi-year deal with a quarterback who's already in the franchise record books -- in only 69 starts.
There is no one within the organization looking beyond Prescott.
"He's our future," team exec Stephen Jones told 105.3FM the Fan in mid-October. "If anyone can overcome anything it's Dak. Feel very good that he can come back stronger and better than ever."