© Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dak Prescott was statistically exiting the Earth's atmosphere to begin the 2020 campaign, hot on the heels of a career-best individual season in 2019, and was only a few corrections away (i.e., uncharacteristic giveaways) from passing the moon when his season ended prematurely during the Week 5 victory over the New York Giants -- in devastating fashion. Granted, the Dallas Cowboys mustered only a 2-4 start despite the blistering pace of Prescott's numbers, but that was in large part due to the historically poor defense that allowed an average of 36.4 points per game when Prescott was under center in 2020. 

With the two-time Pro Bowler now sidelined, facing another round of contract talks in 2021, and the Cowboys on track to a top-5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the obvious question has emerged: should the Cowboys part ways with Prescott and draft a quarterback with their first pick?

Prescott entered the 2020 season on a $31.4 million franchise tag after the former fourth-round pick and the Cowboys again failed to come to terms on a multiyear deal in 2020, making it his second consecutive contract year with the club. The current state of affairs regarding his health has "absolutely not" deterred the team from their goal of revisiting talks as soon as the regular season is over, however, and yet the draft questions persist, and despite repeated efforts to dispel them by both Stephen and Jerry Jones.

The latter noted the team would be more "judicious" in how they expose Prescott to hits going forward, already eyeing a 2021 season that includes him in a Cowboys uniform, and not Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields. There are several reasons the Joneses are currently and justifiably shrugging off consensus arm talents like Lawrence and Fields, and we're about to dissect them all.

Buckle up.

The Wizards of Whiff

Let's be perfectly and unabashedly honest here: the Cowboys are very not great at scouting quarterbacks. 

When you think of Dallas as a franchise, there will immediately be highlights of Don Meredith and Roger Staubach prancing in your frontal cortex, dancing a lively jig with the accomplishments of Troy Aikman to paint a wildly skewed picture of how often the Cowboys hit on a premium QB pick. The reality is much grimmer, the team often being saved by not having to use a top pick on a signal-caller whatsoever because of the presence of an incumbent who's proven themselves too valuable to divorce when working in their prime. This wasn't an issue during the Jimmy Johnson era though, because that began with Aikman being the No. 1-overall pick in 1989, and in a social media-less world that was much more forgiving of his 0-11 rookie season.

Allowed two additional seasons to grow while the team added Hall of Fame pieces around him, the Cowboys finally broke through in 1992 and weren't forced into a situation where they had to find a successor until the 2001 NFL Draft, and their answer was Quincy Carter. And while Carter did lead a 10-6 season with a playoff appearance in Year 3 with the team, he was 8-10 in the other three years combined -- finishing his Cowboys career with only four seasons logged and 32 touchdowns to 37 interceptions -- leaving a shattered legacy additionally and primarily tethered to off-the-field controversy.

Carter was Jerry Jones' first premium draft pick at QB without the assistance of Johnson, and it was a massive bust. He'd strike gold by way of an undrafted Tony Romo in 2003, but that was against the push of Bill Parcells at the time, and the signing required then Cowboys assistant coach Sean Payton to pound the table. If not for Payton, Romo likely never plays in Dallas, but the move again saved the club from having to try Jones' hand at a premium QB pick. 

It's easy and convenient to point at recent NFL success stories and assume that would happen in Dallas, but odds are aggressively against that being true. Yes, one can enjoy the upside on Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, but expand the scope and in rushes objectivity, because more often than not, things aren't pretty for top QB picks at the pro level.

Using a snapshot of the first-round QB picks over the last half-decade, and their respective draft slotting, that point becomes instantly clear.

Name (Overall pick)


Joe Burrow (1st)

Tua Tagovailoa (5th)

Justin Herbert (6th)


Kyler Murray (1st)

Daniel Jones (6th)

Dwayne Haskins (15th)


Baker Mayfield (1st)

Sam Darnold (3rd)

Josh Allen (7th)

Josh Rosen (10th)

Lamar Jackson (32nd)


Mitchell Trubisky (2nd)

Patrick Mahomes (10th)

Deshaun Watson (12th)


Jared Goff (1st)

Carson Wentz (2nd)

Paxton Lynch (26th)


Jameis Winston (1st)

Marcus Mariota (2nd)

What you'll find is that QBs secured with a first-round pick pan out less often that teams would like, and this has to be a part of the discussion when dialoguing about the possibility of moving on from Prescott to make way for an unproven rookie. Also, keep in mind the Cowboys were nearly the home of Johnny Manziel, if not for Zack Martin graded too high to pass up in the Romo era.

Yes, that Johnny Manziel.

But wait, there's more, when it comes to the Cowboys being the Wizards of Whiff at QB scouting. The organization used a third-round pick in 2007 to land Isaiah Stanback, only to fail at converting him to wide receiver before jettisoning him the following year. A fourth-rounder was used in 2009 on Stephen McGee, who was scuttled in 2012 after failing to develop well as a backup, and if you're wondering about better luck in assessing quality QB2 talent via free agency -- save for Jon Kitna and an at least capable Kyle Orton (who threatened retirement if not released in 2014) -- you're going to find yourself sifting through the likes of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore, Anthony Wright, Chad Hutchinson, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, and more dismal displays of QB play that now include Andy Dalton

So when it comes to Prescott, it's a no-brainer why Jerry Jones is holding onto him so tightly, and these are honestly not even the top reasons, although they should be.

The other? 

The Jimmy Johnson albatross

It's not hard to discern if you know how the mind of Jerry Jones works. 

Prescott is literally the first draft pick in the post-Johnson era that gives Jerry Jones a chance at winning the Super Bowl and having a chance to say, "Look what I finally did without Jimmy." That, in and of itself, is something Jones is desperately chasing after more than two decades of hearing how he can't build a winner without Johnson holding his hand. Having already admitted publicly and repeatedly that he wasted Romo's career by failing to build a winning team around him in several aspects, time isn't on Jones' side when it comes to possibly making that mistake a second time. 

Add this to the fact the 78-year-old isn't exactly comfortable with hitting the reset button in 2021 -- even if it does cost less to do so -- considering Prescott might be Jones' last chance at making his post-Johnson point before Father Time places the Final Call. He lucked into Romo as an undrafted free agent, and again lucked into Prescott with a fourth-round pick that wasn't supposed to happen, after several failed attempts to trade and select Paxton Lynch much earlier in the same draft. Having had the Denver Broncos save the Cowboys from themselves in taking Lynch for themselves, Jones then had eyes on Connor Cook, before the Raiders took him off the board only moments ahead of the eventual Prescott pick.

The 27-year-old has proven himself a definitive starter (while neither Lynch nor Cook enjoy employment anywhere in the NFL) by way of a slew of franchise and league records, honors as 2016 Rookie of the Year, a 42-27 career win-loss mark, a tally of 17,634 passing yards with 106 touchdowns to just 40 interceptions, 15 game-winning drives, nine fourth-quarter comebacks, a career passer rating of 97.3 and leader of the league's most prolific offense in yards gained two years running when under center -- as a fourth-round pick, no less. So even in the picks Jones didn't make, because he wasn't allowed to for one reason or the other, the Cowboys can't seem to nail their QB draft picks without Fate taking the wheel and veering the vehicle to the right. 

Is this to say Lawrence and Fields won't be studs at the next level? Not at all. It is to say, however, that if the Cowboys grab one, their chance of NFL success statistically drops. Contrarily, Prescott has been the primary reason the team has been offensively formidable as opposed to what it's become without him -- a joke of an offense (the Week 9 play of Garrett Gilbert notwithstanding). 

This is why Prescott will command roughly $40 million per year in 2021 talks, but not simply because of his value on the field and in the locker room. It's also because the Cowboys didn't lock him up before now.

The Money Slant

Spoiler: The price on Prescott will be steep, and a draft pick will not. 

Counterpoint: Prescott was cheap for four years, and no longer is. 

That's the price you pay when you allow things to get to this point with your franchise quarterback, having quibbled over the difference between a four- and five-year deal in 2020 that logged a second whiff in contract talks with Prescott, positioning him to play under the aforementioned franchise tag. When Prescott went down with injury, some believed Dalton would simply step in behind the same patchwork line and blast off, but he instead never left the launchpad. The same happened with rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci, and it took Gilbert to at least make the offense look capable -- after having scored only one touchdown in the 13 quarters following Prescott's injury.

In seeing the team's offense go from an average of 32.4 points per game under Prescott to 7.33 per game without him, there can be no denying the value of a QB who once entered the Cowboys training camp as the fourth-string camp body, but has now ascended to being one of the best in the game. And yet, he sits without a long-term deal, while arguably lesser talent selected with the first- and second-overall pick in the same 2016 draft enjoy massive contract extensions {mostly} without the same amount of achievement or durability prior to the Week 5 injury -- e.g. Carson Wentz.

Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million extension with $107 million guaranteed in 2019, not far from when Goff inked a four-year, $134 million extension with $110 million guaranteed. Since then, Mahomes has set the bar in a big way with Watson signing a four-year, $177.5 million contract in September 2020 that includes $111 million guaranteed. The Houston Texans could've easily took their 2020 rebuild and eyed Lawrence or Fields in 2021 to set up for a parting of ways with Watson and bask in the hundreds of millions of dollars in savings at the position, but they didn't.

For the same reason few teams would move on from an elite QB simply because of money: they don't grow on trees. Instead of uprooting the oak, the Cowboys need to focus on tilling the soil around it, with a key focus on the Garden of Defense.

Through 69 starts, Prescott has already amassed 17,634 passing yards and 106 touchdowns to just 40 interceptions. His career passer rating of 97.3 through four-plus seasons is stellar on its face, but even more so when factoring in contextual items such a wide receiver unit that led the league in drops last season, or the loss of Tyron Smith at times over the past several seasons, and having not had La'El Collins on the right edge for a single snap in 2020. Even with a patchwork offensive line forced recently to move Martin to right tackle out of desperation, Prescott became the first player in NFL history to pass for more than 450 yards in three consecutive games. 

Not bad for a player some claimed couldn't be a starter at the collegiate level, and who was then viewed as nothing more than a project for the Cowboys in 2016, emerging quickly to become anything but the latter. Four years later, he's the face of the franchise and one of the best QBs in the NFL. Can anyone guarantee an incoming rookie will do the same? And as early as Year 1 like Prescott did? The objective answer is no, and no matter how much pomp and circumstance surrounds them. 

Absent a deal before the beginning of February, the Cowboys will tag Prescott a second time to give them until July 15 to achieve the contract mulligan, and that's why they've been feverishly squirreling money away toward rollover cap space that will help them do so -- plus it would be atrocious optics to extend the running back, right tackle and inconsistent linebacker but lose your QB1 in the process. And then there's the fact he's the heart and soul of the locker room, with Ezekiel Elliott noting he'll relentlessly lobby to get Prescott a long-term deal while other players recently telling CBS Sports they'll run through a wall for him.

As if his play on the field wasn't enough to shrug off a rookie in 2021, the intangibles are absolutely priceless.

"He's our future," team exec Stephen Jones said of Prescott in October, following the injury. "If anyone can overcome anything it's Dak. Feel very good that he can come back stronger and better than ever."

Jerry Jones recently hammered that nail flush with the wood in a recent talk with 105.3FM the Fan.

"Yes, yes [it's crazy to consider drafting a quarterback in 2021]," he said. "You asked me if it was crazy to bring the idea up, and I'm answering you. Yes. We're playing games here, guys, but it's nothing to be talking about at all. 

"Dak is our quarterback."

The bottom line is the Cowboys need help on defense, and also at backup QB, not at the top of the quarterback food chain. When players like Tony Romo, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman continuously nudge their former team to ante up instead of "playing chicken", something Smith warned would ruin the team if it results in a split from Prescott, it would behoove those staring at the fancy shoes in the draft window to take pause and listen. While shiny and new, you can't predict the fit before you try them on, and doing so simply isn't justified by the risk taken, knowing the ones you're already wearing are more than capable of comfortably leading you to the promised land.

That is if you finally tie the loose strings.