NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys

DALLAS, Texas --  The Dallas Cowboys' 2024 offseason has felt different than past offseasons for a variety of reasons.

For the first time in the their string of three consecutive 12-win seasons, Dallas was humiliated in the postseason with a 48-32 faceplant of a defeat against the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers. The previous two years ended with one possession losses against the San Francisco 49ers

Another cause for a different feel around the Cowboys this time of year was of course the shift from owner and general manager Jerry Jones saying Dallas would be  "all in" to then saying they are going to "get it done with less" after letting many starters walk in free agency and mostly re-signing their own depth players. Veteran 32-year-old linebacker Erick Kendricks signing a one-year deal is the crown jewel of the Cowboys' 2024 offseason. 

Much of the blame for the Cowboys spending an NFL-low $13.7 million in free agency and just under $20 million less than the next cheapest team -- the New Orleans Saints ($32.2 million) -- per, is their inability to get 2023 Second-Team All-Pro quarterback Dak Prescott and 2023 First-Team All-Pro wide receiver CeeDee Lamb re-signed to new deals to spread out their cap hits. The inability to do so and the subsequent inactivity surprises even Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. 

"That would probably be fair," Aikman said Friday at the Children's Cancer Fund's "A Knight to Remember" gala when asked if he was surprised about the Cowboys' offseason inactivity. "I thought they would have taken care of Dak already. You guys follow it closer than I do. I don't know what the game plan is. I know that everyone concluded a lot about Jerry's comments in Mobile about being all in  and what that might look like, so I think it's caught a lot of people by surprise. ... I do think there's a lot of scrutiny every offseason with every team as to what they're doing or what they didn't do or what they did that everyone thinks was so good. Sometimes all that plays out well in the fall, sometimes it doesn't. That's what this team is going to be judged on. ... It's going to be judged on what they do in the regular season and more importantly what they do in the postseason next year."

Aikman acknowledged that he felt the 2023 Cowboys, who won the NFC East and were the conference's No. 2 seed, were capable of achieving much more than they did. 

"Maybe a little bit from Cowboys fans that I come across," Aikman said when asked if he thinks disappointment from the postseason loss to the Packers is lingering more than past years' playoff disappointments. "Obviously, there was a lot of frustration with how last year ended and no one was more frustrated than the team themselves. Nobody expected that. Nobody cares what I'm doing, but I didn't make travel plans [at that time] because I planned on going to San Francisco for the [NFC] championship game. That's how confident I was that this team was going to do something. It was a team that felt good all year long. ... Unfortunately for a team that's won so many games is that they just haven't played their best football when the games have mattered most and when you don't do that, you fall short, which is what has happened to them."

Dak Prescott focused on living 'in the now'

The Cowboys' "getting it done with less" offseason mantra will likely make life harder on Prescott, but he remains confident Dallas can pull multiple contributors out of the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft

"I'm just focused on the guys that we have. I know we got a lot of great guys, a lot of good that that's returning in that locker room," Prescott said Friday at the same event when asked about Dallas' inactive offseason. "I say good, but I mean great, and young guys that are good that are making that next step So, obviously I have faith in those guys that have always done well in the draft and bringing some guys in. Hopefully that'll make a big impact. I think right now for me, it's about just focusing on the locker room and pouring into those guys. I don't control that side and making those moves. So I'm not going to put too much thought and and angst into it and what we're doing and how we're getting that done. Rather just how I can invest in the guys and making sure that they're getting better and holding myself accountable to do the same."

As for his contractual future, which will affect Dallas' salary cap management for years to come one way or the other, that's currently on hold as he and Jones' negotiations are currently on pause. 

"Honestly, I'm focused on the moment in the now," Prescott said when asked if his deal needs to get done by the start of the 2024 season. "If the talks begin and, and real talks get to happen, sure we can talk about getting that done. But in this case, right now honestly, I'm worried about just getting better, being better tomorrow than I am at this moment. So leaving that up to my agent and Jerry at this point, and when those talks begin, I'll be more involved obviously."

Prescott clarified the two sides have had contract talks this offseason, but there isn't anything necessarily imminent at the moment. 

"I've talked to Jerry, and so I understand where we are obviously," Prescott said. "Jerry mentioned the same. There's not any gray area in that sense. We had a great conversation that put us aligned in where we are in this moment, and we'll address moving forward as that comes about."

His top wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who led the NFL with 135 catches and set the Cowboys' single season records for catches and receiving yards (1,749) at age 24 last season, is also entering the final year of his current deal like Prescott. Unlike the Dallas quarterback, Lamb is currently skipping the voluntary offseason workouts, but that won't get in the way of the two working together this offseason. 

"Yeah for sure, we'll get some work in," Prescott said. "I've been in communications with CeeDee. That's there. We'll get work in and whether it's him getting in the facility, maybe a deal gets done. If it doesn't, I guarantee that we still find a lot of time to make sure that we're putting in the work that we feel comfortable."

Each new quarterback contract of late -- Jalen Hurts' (five years, $255 million), Lamar Jackson's (five years, $260 million), Justin Herbert's (five years, $262.5 million) and Joe Burrow's (five years, $275 million) -- has become the NFL's biggest contract of all time in terms of average annual salary. How teams structure those deals, however, has varied, and Prescott will be flexible in that structural area of his contract talks. 

"I'm not trying to be the highest paid, necessarily," Prescott said. "I'll wait until negotiations begin. I obviously want to put this team in the best situation. I'm focused on here, right now where I am. That's always how I've been. Anytime you've asked me, it's always been about right now. Getting better tomorrow, and I've been in this situation before, so it's OK. I'm fine in any situation at that point, betting on myself or playing this year out."

Ideally, the Louisiana native who grew up a Cowboys fan and rooted for Tony Romo, whom he succeeded as Dallas' quarterback, would love to remain with the franchise long-term. However, he will accept a football future with a different team if a deal cannot be reached by next offseason. Prescott controls the leverage in the talks since he possesses a clause barring him from being franchise-tagged again as well as a no-trade clause

"I love this game love to play and love to better myself as a player and my teammates around me," Prescott said. "Right now it's with the Dallas Cowboys. This is where I want to be, and that's where I am. That's the focus. After the season, we'll see where we're at and if the future holds that [staying with the Cowboys long term]. "If not, we'll go from there."