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FRISCO, TX — It's time for the Dallas Cowboys to begin the long, arduous task of retooling this offseason to try and finally change their playoff fate in the season to come. This means first identifying what went wrong in 2023, namely on Super Wild Card Weekend against the Green Bay Packers, but also in their five losses that might've indicated a problem heading into the playoffs.
Assessing each position will be paramount going forward — having a very honest conversation about where things sit on the roster as free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft draw near.
To that end, this series will take a look at each position, starting with quarterback.
Past: It's fairly obvious how unfairly positioned the position of quarterback in Dallas has been since the days of Troy Aikman, who took an already legendary franchise to new heights and became a more than worthy successor to the likes of Captain America himself, Roger Staubach, who carried the torch following the greatness of the late "Dandy" Don Meredith.
Meredith was the first superstar quarterback in Dallas, and Staubach led the team to two of their five Super Bowl victories, with Aikman one-upping him with three Lombardi trophies.
The post-Aikman era was an unmitigated disaster until Tony Romo, an undrafted free agent who was criticized similarly to a first-overall pick, won the starting job in 2006. Romo went on to set franchise records and keep the Cowboys relevant until an injury in 2016 opened the door for Dak Prescott to have the best rookie season of any quarterback in franchise history.
There was no looking back afterwards, because the Prescott era had begun, and with a bang.
Present: That said, it is what it is, and the standard is the standard: a Super Bowl win. Prescott is finding himself up against the same wall that once housed the criticisms of his most immediate predecessor.
But while Prescott enters this offseason on the heels of an embarrassing playoff loss and with a playoff record of 2-5, he's also inarguably one of the best quarterbacks the franchise has had, literally (statistically) and his MVP caliber regular season led to a third Pro Bowl nod and third consecutive 12-win season.
But, as noted, this is Dallas and that's not enough to meet the standard, and he'd be the first to readily admit it, but legends such as Aikman haven’t given up on him. Expect him to remain in a Cowboys' uniform for the 2024 season, if not longer, the future beyond next season contingent upon how the team chooses to handle his looming $62 million cap hit.
An extension would solve the issue financially and secure Prescott for the foreseeable future. They could opt to simply restructure it, however, a mechanism built into the current deal that requires zero negotiation and would turn the $62 million cap hit into $21.8 million in surplus cap.
However that bread is sliced, Prescott is staying put, and that turns attention to what happens behind him on the depth chart.
Future: There are plenty of questions outside of the building on if the Cowboys will use a premium pick to select a quarterback in 2024, but I personally don't see it, nor do I believe it would make much sense when considering the presence of Trey Lance. The team was adamant that the 2023 NFL Draft would see them select a developmental quarterback, showing regret for not having done so to that point, before again not selecting one.
Their recompense was to send a 2024 fourth-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers last season in exchange for Lance and, to me, that literally counts the same as selecting one this April — considering you used one of this year's picks to get him — but with the added benefit of Lance still being very young though not a rookie; and a former third-overall pick, no less.
Cooper Rush has been a steady hand behind Prescott, and roses are deserved and were delivered when they came due in 2022, but it's also true the 30-year-old has reached his ceiling and the purpose of bringing Lance in was/is to develop him to challenge Rush for the role of QB2.
Lance will get his first real crack at this battle this coming summer in training camp, with a very real opportunity to show what he's learned in McCarthy's quarterback school and from both Prescott and Rush in his bid to rebuild his brand at the NFL level.
Both Rush and Lance are entering contract years, by the way, assuming the Cowboys don't pick up the fifth-year option on the latter.
This all makes the backup battle at QB one of the more intriguing ones to watch in 2024.