3) Can Dak Raise His Game To Another Level?

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(Football season is finally approaching. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 25. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2019.)

FRISCO, Texas – Following the final minicamp practice of the offseason, Dak Prescott wore a Stetson hat at his locker as he brushed off questions about long-term contract discussions.

“It happens when it happens,” he said. “I’ve got a cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy. Let’s say that.”

Indeed, it’s really just a matter of ‘when’ Prescott and the Cowboys reach an agreement on a lucrative extension. The front office has made clear he’s the franchise quarterback now and in the future. Only one NFL starter (Tom Brady) has won more games than Prescott since he joined the Cowboys as a fourth-round pick in 2016.

That said, the Cowboys need the best version of Prescott to defend their NFC East title and move further in the postseason. How much can he raise his level of play? That’s the next installment in our 20 Questions series.

Lindsay Draper: Prescott has a long list of accomplishments in his three short years in the league, but I think he’d be the first one to tell you he can, and should, raise his play to another level. New quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna told us he couldn’t believe how competitive Prescott is with himself, with the way he asks questions and challenges every detail. But if you want specifics, a notable step for him would be in ball protection and decision-making in the pocket. There were numerous occasions last season where he’d say in his post-game interview, “I should have made a better decision there.” Ball protection and decision-making improvements, especially in tight situations, would help this offense take big strides in the right direction.

Bryan Broaddus: I heard David Helman say the other day that in these situations, “You have to show me.” I totally understand where Helman is coming from here. There have been plenty of times where I’ve projected a player to perform a certain way only to see them fail miserably, but there is something different with Prescott. I am encouraged by the way he physically looks. He still is impressive but he doesn’t appear to be as heavy/bulky as he has been his previous three seasons. At a lighter weight his mobility should improve even more than it already is. I am encouraged by the way he was delivering the ball during the OTAs/minicamps. His accuracy I felt was better than at any time in his career. Instead of missing by yards, he was missing only by inches. Improved accuracy will lead to more big plays, especially with the receivers on this squad. But the area I am most encouraged by is how well he’s taken to coaching from Kitna. Prescott has always tried to do things the right way, but I am not sure he’s had a coach that’s worked with him as hard as Kitna has on his mechanics. A more fundamentally sound Dak Prescott absolutely has a chance to raise his level of play.

David Helman: I’m as big of a Dak supporter as there is, but the answer is obvious: He had better raise his play if his salary is about to cross the $30 million mark. Prescott has been fantastic far more often than not during his first three years in the league, but his consistency and is ability to diagnose a defense are things that will need to improve as he transitions into this point of his career. Fortunately, two things that can’t be doubted about Dak are his confidence and his drive. He looked fantastic during OTAs, and I expect that to carry over. I really do think this will be the best season of his career.

Mickey Spagnola: Sure, Dak can. But if you look back to last year, Prescott raised his level of play significantly the second half of the season when he completed 71.6 percent of his passes those final eight games, had a 12-3 touchdown-to-interception differential and put up a 103.4 QB rating. Look, this is just his fourth season, and quarterbacks have a tendency to continue improving every year. As for a history lesson, let’s look back at the first three seasons of Hall of Famer Troy Aikman’s career. In 38 of a possible 48 games in his first three seasons, Aikman put up a 14-24 record with the Cowboys. He completed 618 of 1,055 passes (59 percent) for 7,082 yards, 31 touchdowns and 46 interceptions while being sacked 90 times. His career quarterback rating over those three seasons was 70.5, with one winning season, one Pro Bowl selection and no playoff wins. And we know where Troy went from there. As for Dak, his three-year totals over 48 games read 975 of 1,475 attempts (66.1 percent), 10,876 yards, 67 touchdowns and 25 interceptions while being sacked 113 times. His three-year QB rating stands at 96.9, a 32-16 starting record, with all three winning seasons, two Pro Bowl selections and one playoff victory. That’s pretty high already level to begin with, wouldn’t you say.

Rob Phillips: Prescott just needs more time in the pilot’s seat, in my opinion. That must be the way the Cowboys feel too, because eventually they’re going to pay him a ton of money. I think people forget it took his predecessor, Tony Romo, several years to find full comfort in the scheme and handle everything a defense throws at a quarterback. A new contract will rightfully produce higher expectations, but Prescott has been among the lowest-paid quarterbacks in the league the last three years, and the scrutiny he’s faced outside this building the last two years astounds me. Romo couldn’t do anything right in some people’s eyes, and now it’s like he never threw an incompletion. What Prescott has done as a walk-in starter from age 23-25 is outstanding. Off the field, he accepts and understands the spotlight. Maybe that’s because he grew up a fan and knows the standard is essentially Hall of Fame play, authored first by Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. The more Prescott sees, the better he’ll be. We already saw glimpses of that in the offseason workouts.

Nick Eatman: That’s a tough question to answer because there are plenty of factors involved. But the only way the Cowboys raise their play to another level is if the answer to this question is a “Yes.” Dak has to get better if the Cowboys want to get better. In no way is that a shot at him, it’s just a simple fact. This team was a Top 8 team last year, losing in the divisional round. He needs to be better so the Cowboys can be better as a team. Here are three ways to help him. If Jason Witten is better than what they had at tight end last year, if Travis Frederick is better than what they had at center and if Randall Cobb is better than Cole Beasley – that should be just enough to get a few more points in the red zone and maybe a few more wins. Those things, along with play-calling that should fit to his strengths, will definitely help Dak be better.

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