There's been a lot of speculation surrounding the progress or supposed lack thereof when it comes to Dak Prescott and his recovery from a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 5 against the New York Giants. The science behind it all, however, as reported by CBS Sports time and again over the past several months, continues to point at the 27-year-old being ahead of schedule and on track to report to the start of offseason conditioning in April.
The Dallas Cowboys have no concerns regarding the status of Prescott's health, sources again confirmed following his second ankle surgery, and that was confirmed by the team -- a four-year contract worth upwards of $160 million that includes record-setting financial marks and several facets of salary cap magic. And with the bookkeeping now in the books, effective March 10 after an agreed-upon franchise tag was placed for procedural reasons on March 9, the entirety of focus now shifts to if Prescott will actually be a full go soon.
Speaking from his Cowboys press conference on Wednesday, flanked by a smiling Stephen and Jerry Jones, Prescott confirmed CBS Sports' reporting on the matter -- his updates effectively dropping contrary speculation into a shallow grave.
"I thought about jogging out here and jumping up on stage, but I don't know if you all are ready for that," he said while wearing an ear-to-ear grin. "I'm healthy. I obviously haven't talked to [media], and I thank you all for the support. I thank the Cowboys nation and everyone out there who was praying for me -- sent their condolences -- that's a feeling that I will never be able to put into words: to be in a hospital bed, not knowing really what is going to happen, just coming out of surgery and getting all of that support from family, from coaches, from former coaches from teammates and the Cowboys nation and even a lot of you.
"I'm just so thankful for that, but I'm healthy."
Sure looks like it.
But exactly where is he on a scale of 0-100 percent? Sources tell CBS Sports he's not far from being cleared medically, as noted in his ability to now run and in how he's been at The Star in Frisco doing rehab work daily, but he and the Cowboys are being deliberate in how they rehabilitate his ankle. There have been no setbacks to this point, and they're not interested in risking one by forcing the issue unnecessarily in March.
For his part, neither is Prescott.
"I'll control what I can control," he added. "I'll follow the doctor's orders the whole time. Put my own work ethic into it. I'm healthy, I'm getting close. I'll be ready when it matters."
Now out of the boot, off of the crutches, walking, running and capable of jumping up on the stage for his press conference -- had he deemed the world ready to see such a thing -- the needle points due north on Prescott's return, one that will easily make him a frontrunner for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2021. And speaking of that award, in explaining how he remained mentally strong throughout the process, Prescott pointed at the reigning CPOTY, Alex Smith, whose career was nearly ended by a gruesome leg injury of his own. And while the two went differently from the outset -- Smith nearly losing his leg to infection while Prescott avoided having to battle that concern -- there was still much to glean from how psychologically strong Smith was during his ordeal.
"So when I first got hurt, the one thing I said wasn't going to do was put a timepoint on it because there were so many different variables and things that could come up,'' Prescott said. "I am ready and I am getting close. I feel good. You saw me walk out here. I can do a lot of things I couldn't do weeks ago or even days ago that i am doing today. So it's hard to say I will be ready at this time or that time. I will be ready when it matters. I will be more than healthy and better than I was before.
"I have to thank Alex Smith. At that moment you are sitting there with that injury, and to see somebody who has already done it and did it in worse circumstances, that allowed my mind to say, 'I can do this. I am going to beat this. It's just a matter of time. What is the doctor saying. But I am going to beat this.'
"I have to thank Alex -- somebody who has overcome that and won comeback player of the year. Congrats to him."
And what of the second surgery?
Was it truly a voluntary one aimed at strengthening the ankle, as detailed by CBS Sports in early February?
"So, the second surgery was something that was thought upon ,and might have happen with the first surgery. Obviously the first surgery was a little wound you want to get that, and eliminate any risk of infection [though]," Prescott said of the follow-up procedure. "So, that's all that was for the most part, and then we got weeks or months or so down the road, and said, 'You know, it would be best if we went in there and didn't do that now.' So, as Mr. Jones has said: 10 years, 15 years, I can be playing still, and not have to deal with something or something bothering me eight years or whatever.
"We might as well knock it down and get it straight now while I'm already missing games, already missing time. So, that was obviously the thought behind that, and that's what happened. And it was needed. I feel great."
With Prescott's ankle stronger than it was prior to the injury in October, his workload is ramping up daily at The Star.
"You saw me walk out here," he said. "The things that I'm doing now, the things that I did this morning, the stuff I couldn't do two days ago. So, that's the fun part about it, and that's the eagerness that I have to get back out there tomorrow and see what I can do tomorrow that I couldn't do today."
With his new deal in tow, his health nearing completion and the Cowboys verbally admitting they'll throw a lot at giving Prescott a defense that can match serve with their "special" offensive unit, does he believe they're instantly the best in the NFC East in 2021?
His answer was the simplest, most succinct and most poignant of an hour-long press conference.