FRISCO, Texas – With Dak Prescott back under contract and working toward his return from injury, the questions can resume about his actual performance.
It's been an afterthought amid the excitement around Prescott's four-year, $160 million contract extension, but there have been several questions raised about his style of play.
Long known for his physical brand of athleticism, Prescott was asked the day he signed his contract if he would need to change his style of play to prevent future injuries like the one that ended his 2020 season.
"Yeah, I've got to be smarter," he said. "Before the injury, going back to high school I was told to be smarter on when I want to demonstrate my physicality or when I want to try to make a point in the game or change the momentum. That's no different. I have to be smarter."
No one wants to re-watch that highlight, but a quick refresher: it was 1st-and-10 from the New York Giants' 27-yard line and the Cowboys' first possession of the second half. Prescott took off right through the center of the pocket, slipping one tackle in the process. As he changed course toward the near sideline, he got tangled while trying to fend off Logan Ryan. The ensuing awkward tackle resulted in a compound ankle fracture and a dislocation.
Losing the franchise quarterback to such a needless hit has led to plenty of speculation about Prescott's physical mentality. Last December, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones noted how good Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is at avoiding contact, and suggested Prescott will need to do the same.
"Dak can do that. Dak will do that," Jones said at the time. "He can evolve to where he just will take less and less hits. He has to -- or we won't have him to play."
At the same time, that leads to a conversation about changing Prescott's game for the worse. In 72 career games, he has compiled 1,359 rushing yard and an impressive 26 touchdowns. He had already rushed for three touchdowns by Week 5 of last season, when he was eventually hurt.
Prescott acknowledged that the situation dictates what should be asked of him, and that a first down in the third quarter probably isn't the time to make the extra effort.
"On a play like that — first down, you're going down. You're sliding," he said.
It's hard not to think about how many times Prescott has kept his offense alive through sheer willpower, though – most notably, his winding, somersaulting, 16-yard run against Seattle on a crucial 3rd-and-14 of a wildcard game. The run set the Cowboys up on the Seahawks' goal line, where they eventually took a 24-14 lead to put the game away.
And to hear it from Prescott, that's not the type of play he plans on taking out of his repertoire.
"To say that the game's on the line, it's a first down or it's the red zone and I'm going there — that's who I am," he said. "I don't know if I can ever tone that down, and if I do then y'all are changing who I am."
His head coach seems to agree with him. Asked about it last week, Mike McCarthy acknowledged that Prescott probably doesn't need to stiff arm and lower his shoulder on defenders as much as he has in the past. But McCarthy also said he doesn't want to coach instinct out of any of his players.
"I don't ever try to make a statement to a player that would make him hesitate, because hesitation in the NFL is, you're a full step slower than the opponent and it can put you in a worst position," McCarthy said.
Certainly, there is a happy medium to be found here. Prescott's mobility is far too valuable to be removed entirely from his game, but the Cowboys need to have their $40 million quarterback on the field if they're going to win games. For all the outside talk about it, no one seems to understand that better than him.
"There are certain plays, there are certain times that I'll be a much smarter player and decide when to not use my physicality during the run, just taking care of myself," he said. "The best ability is durability, and I have to be there for my team."
The truth is, most anything I've ever been involved in that ended up being special, I overpaid for. Every time. Any time I've tried to get a bargain, I got just that. It was a bargain in a lot of ways, and not up to standard.