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Offseason | 2023

Spagnola: Stop It All, Dak's Not Going Anywhere


FRISCO, Texas – This was bad timing, this guy in the locker room at the health club attracting my attention with, "Hey, Mr. Football Guy."

You talkin' to me?

"Are the Cowboys finally going to get rid of Dak Prescott?"

Like out loud, so most everyone around could hear while possibly seeing the hairs raising on my neck.

This came maybe two hours after hearing someone on a morning TV show declare, as if headline news, that Dak Prescott is returning to quarterback the Dallas Cowboys. Like there was a big debate out here at The Star about his immediate employment.

Just shook my head in the quiet of my house.

But this time, this guy wanting more to express his opinion than being inquisitive, caught me at an impatient moment with another round of nonsense, pouring out of my mouth without blinking, "That's a stupid question."

Didn't think he deserved a logical answer like if the Cowboys cut or traded Dak come March, they would incur $89 million in salary cap dead money, and if they did so in March of 2024 before the final year of his four-year, $160 million contract expires, the dead money would total $39.9 million.

Or, to drag out that ol' Bill Parcells line about difficulty of simply finding another one, "You can't just go down to Texaco and get one."

Geesh, it's only February. We've got a long offseason ahead of us, nearly seven full months of dealing with this narrative that's already started:

How are the Cowboys going to fix Dak Prescott?

OK, get it, he didn't have a good game in the 19-12 loss to the 49ers in the divisional round playoff game. But you know what? Other than the defense, the Cowboys didn't have a good game against the Niners. Couldn't run the ball, just 76 yards, and let's not blame all that on losing explosive running back Tony Pollard before halftime. At that point, Pollard had eight touches for 33 total yards (six runs for 22 yards and two catches for 11). And just less than half of their 55 first-half rushing yards came on two Dak runs for 20 yards. Never a good day when your QB's 11-yard run ends up being the team's longest in the game.

But then, get this, too. The only two people tagged with a loss are the quarterback and the head coach. Maybe this time three, since so many were down on offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, though guessing the Chargers were not among that crowd, hiring him nearly the minute he departed on that mutual agreement.

And while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made it clear head coach Mike McCarthy would take over the offense and play-calling duties, sure didn't take long for the Cowboys to replace Moore, doing the obvious on Saturday announcing this past season's consultant Brian Shottenheimer, with 22 years of NFL experience and 12 as an offensive coordinator and son of the late former NFL head coach Marty Shottenheimer, as the new offensive coordinator.

And, of course, Dak did what every creditable quarterback will do after a loss, never daring to spread the blame around. He just falls on his sword, saying, "And for us to only put up the points that we did, that's unacceptable, and it starts with me. I've got to be better. No other way to sugarcoat it."

He wouldn't dare say that, other than CeeDee Lamb's performance, the Cowboys other receivers didn't exactly have a great day getting open, Michael Gallup getting shut out, Noah Brown with two catches and T.Y. Hilton with one.

Look, the point here is this: Yep, Dak being intercepted 17 times over 14 games (including playoffs) is not good. But let's remember, dropped balls and bad or unexpected routes accounted for a good number of those. It's not as if Dak has had an interception problem his entire career. His single-season high had been 13 in 2017. Last year, when throwing a franchise single-season record 37 touchdown passes, he had 10 of his career-tying high 596 passes picked.

But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. During that nine-game stretch after Dak returned from his hand surgery, Oct. 30 (Bears) through Dec. 29 (Titans), Dalla was averaging 36.6 points a game while going 7-2. And in those two losses, the Cowboys did put up 28 points in the three-point overtime loss to Green Bay and 34 in the overtime loss to Jacksonville, the game decided on the catchable dropped pass being intercepted instead and turning into a pick-six for the winning touchdown, not to mention squandering 14- and 17-point leads, respectively, in those two games.

Then there was the 31-14 playoff victory over Tampa Bay and sending Tom Brady into retirement, we think for good this time. Guess this version of Dak Prescott didn't need fixing: Completing 25 of 33 passes (franchise playoff record 75.7 percent) for a playoff high 305 yards, a franchise playoff-tying record four touchdowns, no interceptions and a playoff-high QB rating of 143.3, second highest in franchise history to Tony Romo's franchise record 143.6). So, higher than any playoff game for Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.

And it was only the Cowboys' fifth playoff victory since winning Super Bowl XXX that 1995 season, and now Dak has two of those to go with Romo's two and Aikman's one. It's also the third time in his seven years he's had the Cowboys in the playoffs (played in just five games that 2020 season), one short of Romo's four appearances while starting those 10 consecutive seasons from 2006-15.

Still, and get the disappointment out there of another 12-5 season going down the drain, unable to get this franchise into that elusive NFC title game now counting 27 seasons. Which was made only worse by Dallas' NFC East-mate Eagles now going to their second Super Bowl in six years.

Also get why the quarterbacks get all the money and fame but also the blame. Go ask Don Meredith. And Danny White after taking the Cowboys to those three consecutive NFC title games (1980-82). And why even Aikman in his final season of 2000, during that 41-24 loss to San Francisco. When Terrell Owens ran to the midfield Star at Texas Stadium to celebrate his touchdown. Why even Aikman was booed by Cowboys fans with the team dropping to 1-3 on the way to the first of three consecutive 5-11 finishes.

Now, the Cowboys did pivot on the coaching staff, McCarthy taking over the offense and hiring Shottenheimer, but also letting quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier go, along with offensive line coach Joe Philbin and running backs coach Skip Peete. New voices entering with differing offensive philosophies and allowing Moore the opportunity to get out from under offensive-minded head coaches, possibly with success in Los Angeles enhancing his head-coaching chances.

So, there were Jerry Jones and COO Stephen Jones at this week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., having to answer questions about Dak's future, too.

"Dak is going to be our guy for, hopefully, the next 10 years," Stephen Jones said succinctly.

And Jerry: "I'm still very strong, not still, I'm very strong on Dak. We have in my mind a unique person, a unique football player, a unique quarterback. … This whole thing reflects the upside I feel in Dak."

Enough said, and must say a tad more tactfully than me.

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