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Spagnola: Sometimes If You See It, Go Ahead And Keep Your Eyes Wide Open

FRISCO, TexasYou'll know it when you see it.

That's what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said just less than a month ago when discussing how the Cowboys would decide if they should stick with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott after his 11-game winning streak narrowly came to an end or if they should turn to a now healthy 14-year veteran quarterback Tony Romo for the rest of the season.

And you know, there is some truth to that previous Supreme Court reasoning on a censorship case. Sometimes you have to just trust your eyes.

Well Jerry and the high justices certainly might want to give this game of NFL football a guiding hand when trying to make decisions on league-wide awards at this time of year, when even snow flurries on Friday afternoon managed to turn the outer portions of the Cowboys practices field here at The Star white.

Take the Pro Bowl voting results of a couple weeks ago. What the heck had those folks been watching? And not talking so much about the fans. But come on, the coaches and players? Did they even watch Sean Lee play linebacker? Or did they just look for sack and interception stats?

My gosh, the guy led the Cowboys with 173 tackles, and 12 of those for losses, about as beneficial as sacks, no. He led a no-name defense given the most humble of names by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, "The Mighty Orphans" after the book written about the football team at the Masonic Home in Fort Worth back during the Depression years. This Cowboys presumed rag-tag bunch ended up fifth in points against, first in run defense and good enough to hold 11 teams to no more than 21 points.

Well, Lee received his just due on Friday, voted to the Associated Press 2016 NFL All-Pro team, considered by the players a much more prestigious honor. This all-star team consists of 11 players on offense, 11 players on defense, and then the special teams, voted on by a select panel of 50 writers and broadcasters regularly covering the NFL.

Maybe these guys know what they're actually seeing, since they also honored rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Cowboys offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, as they should have.

Now more of these awards are on their way in the coming week or so, and the Cowboys, 13-3, and the No. 1 seed in the NFC as the playoffs start this weekend, should be under serious consideration for many more.

Take head coach Jason Garrett. Now I hear all about these arguments for other guys, like Oakland's Jack Del Rio, Tennessee's Mike Mularkey, New England's Bill Belichick and Atlanta's Dan Quinn.

All fine candidates. But Garrett should win this one hands down.

Let's not forget this was a 4-12 team last year. While I hear Belichick did a fantastic job with the Patriots, leading them to a 14-2 record, and doing so with his star quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games, great. But does everyone realize Garrett led the Cowboys to a 13-2 record before punting that final game for health preservation reasons after losing not only his presumptive backup quarterback the first week of training but also 2014 Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo the third preseason game for the first nine games of the season?

And he did this by starting a rookie quarterback in all 16 games, no more than a late fourth-round pick? Seriously? And a rookie running back? And dealing with a bushel-full of injuries, along with suspensions to his projected two starting defensive ends to start the season, DeMarcus Lawrence the first four games and Randy Gregory the first 14, and now for a whole year?

Come on folks, open your eyes.

Now, as for rookie of the year, this one is a no-brainer, right. My, ought to be able to get this one right with your eyes closed:

Ezekiel Elliott.

First rookie to win the NFL rushing crown since Edgerrin James in 1999. Won the title playing just 15 games, and did so by 318 yards. Came within 178 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's 1983 rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards. And did so for a 13-3 team.

Should feel 100 percent certain this is a unanimous choice.

Now, NFL Most Valuable Players. Not the* best player, right. The *Most Valuable Player.

Well, my eyes have been wide open since the late July start to training camp. My eyes have seen 16 starts. My eyes have watched an entire franchise juiced by one guy, as if it had infused one of those 5-hour energy drinks into the veins of this organization.

And must admit, I've waffled on this for the past month, just trying to decide who has been more important to the Cowboys' success, Zeke or Dak. At first, well, I was thinking Dak, how he pulled this team up by its boot straps for that phenomenal 11-game winning streak. Then I started leaning toward Zeke, the fact he finished with 15 rushing touchdowns for a team which had only eight last year. That's right, eight.

But yesterday I remembered that back on July 22nd, prior to heading off to training camp, I wrote this when it was time to come up with the annual Mr. Indispensable Award:

With Romo starting just four games and finishing just two, with Dez missing seven games, and really wasn't even totally healthy for more than one of the nine he did play in during the 2015 season, the Cowboys flopped to 4-12 last year, third worst 16-game-season record in franchise history. That bad.

So how foolish would it be to select anyone else but them? We had living proof. So because of that, we're going to dispense with Mr. Indispensable, at least for this year. We know who he/they is/are beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Heck, before that, the award was given out without considering the quarterback. Because in my book, especially with what the Cowboys have dealt with behind the starter, you'd pick Tony Romo every year. Couldn't live without him.


The Cowboys lived all right, and even flourished at the most important position on any football team. And for that reason, along with the absolute best rookie performance by a Cowboys quarterback, Dak, Dak, he's my man.

My Cowboys MVP. My NFL MVP.

Is Dak Prescott not playing the hardest position to play in sports? Did but a mere rookie lead the Cowboys to 13 victories, most single-season wins by a Cowboys rookie quarterback and tying Ben Roethlisberger for most by an NFL rookie quarterback? Oh, and did he not take over a 4-12 team from a year ago and lead it to the best record in the NFC, and might have tied New England for the best record in the NFL if the Cowboys hadn't pull off that final game?

Look, Brady is great. But he led a 12-4 team from 2015 to an 11-1 record in his suspension-shortened season. Matt Ryan, too. But he led an 8-8 Atlanta team to an 11-5 record.

Is anyone out there also comprehending the incomprehensible season Dak threw down, improving the Cowboys by a franchise-best nine games?

Let's start here, and remember, rookie Dak Prescott, fourth-round pick Dak Prescott: His 104.9 QB rating was third best in the NFL this year, behind only Brady (117.1) and Ryan (112.2), and is the second highest in Cowboys single-season history. His completion percentage (67.8) was fourth, and third best in Cowboys history. His average yards per attempt was fourth, .01 short of 8-yards per. His four interceptions tied for second fewest.

And let's also give you some more Cowboys franchise perspective: After Danny White threw for 3,980 yards in 1983, what was then a Cowboys single-season high, only Romo since has passed for more yards than Dak's 3,667.

Let's continue. Not only has Dak set the record for wins by a rookie quarterback, but also the record by a mile for rookie completions (311), rookie completion percentage (67.8), needless to say rookie yards passing, average gain per attempt, rookie touchdown passes (23) – the previous record was Troy Aikman's nine – and the franchise lowest interception percentage (.9).

Do you understand how good his season has been? How out of the blue this season has been? That in 57 years of Cowboys football, no Cowboys rookie quarterback, and two of them finished careers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and three in the team's Ring of Honor, has played like this?

Do you? Do you think the Cowboys would be where they are today, resting this weekend and waiting for a home Divisional Playoff game next weekend at AT&T Stadium against the remaining lowest seeded team, without Dak Prescott?

Just how darn valuable is that?

Now we see what we've been seeing. We've seen it all. We understand.

Just hope that panel of 50 voters still has their eyes wide open.

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