FRISCO, Texas – There's one last bit of business to attend to before the final game of the year.
Never one to downplay an event, the NFL has done a masterful job of turning its end-of-year award presentation into a spectacle all its own. The NFL Honors show is taking another step up in 2022, as the league has opted to move it to Thursday night, rather than its old weekend spot on the night before the Super Bowl.
Over the course of Thursday evening, eight major annual awards will be announced, along with a host of others. Coming off a 12-5 season, the Cowboys figure to factor heavily into a few of those conversations.
Here's a preview of what to expect from NFL Honors, as far as the Cowboy are concerned.
It's hard to imagine someone other than Aaron Rodgers winning MVP.
It feels strange to say now, but Dak Prescott was in the thick of the conversation at one point in 2021. At the midpoint of the season, the Cowboys were 7-2, with Prescott sitting on 2,300 yards and 20 passing touchdowns. His individual numbers honestly didn't suffer much down the back half of the season, but the Cowboys played .500 football for much it, finishing 6-5 after Prescott returned from his calf injury. That more than anything took him out of the conversation.* Defensive Player of the Year*T.J. Watt is likely going to win this award after narrowly missing it in recent years – not to mention tying Michael Strahan's single-season sack record despite missing two games to injury.
Even still, Micah Parsons belongs squarely in the conversation, which is a testament to just how remarkable his rookie season was.
The Cowboys technically drafted Parsons to play linebacker, and he was good enough at that to finish second on the team with 80 tackles. He was credited with 20 tackles for loss and three pass breakups on the year, showing off his ability to make plays both sideline-to-sideline and down the field.
And then there was the pass rush element. Necessity forced defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to put more on Parsons' plate, and to say he handled it would be a massive understatement. Parsons finished with 13 sacks on the season despite only rushing the passer as a part time job. He had an outside shot of breaking Javon Kearse's rookie sack record of 14.5 – and might have, had he not missed the regular season finale with COVID-19.
Parsons finished sixth in the NFL in sacks, fourth in pressures and second in quarterback knockdowns – and again, that was while also splitting time at linebacker. Watt might hear his name called Thursday night, but Micah Parsons is plenty deserving.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
For all the reasons listed above, Parsons should be a sure thing to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Parsons was the only rookie defender named to the Pro Bowl this year, and he was the only rookie to earn first-team All-Pro – period.
His closest competition, Denver's Patrick Surtain II, had a solid season, finishing with 58 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. That's not nearly enough to catch up to Parsons' accomplishments. Go ahead and give him the award now.
Comeback Player of the Year
There was a point this year where it felt like a foregone conclusion that Prescott would snag this award. It's easy to forget that at this time last year there was plenty of speculation about how well he would rebound from breaking and dislocating his ankle in October 2020.
Suffice to say, that's not a concern now. Prescott bounced back from that horrific injury to set the Cowboys' single-season touchdown record, throwing for 4,449 yards and 37 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. He'd be a more than worthy winner.
The issue for Prescott will be how voters weigh the case of Joe Burrow, who missed the final six weeks of his rookie season after tearing his ACL and MCL on Nov. 22, 2020.
At the midpoint of the season, when Prescott and the Cowboys were 7-2 while Burrow and the Bengals were sitting at 5-4, this didn't feel like a debate. But Burrow has obviously caught fire in the time since, leading Cincinnati to a 10-7 record, an AFC North title and an appearance in Super Bowl LVI.
Prescott and Burrow are both plenty deserving, but there will only be one winner.
Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year
Prescott is the Cowboys' 2021 nominee for this prestigious award, which honors the player who displays excellence in volunteer and charity work in his community. All 32 NFL clubs submit a nominee, and Prescott is being recognized this year for his work with his Faith Fight Finish Foundation, which focuses on cancer research, suicide prevention and mental health awareness, as well as bridging the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
If Prescott were to win, he'd be the fourth Cowboys player to earn the award, along with Roger Staubach (1978), Troy Aikman (1997) and Jason Witten (2012).
AP Assistant Coach of the Year
One of the newer AP NFL awards, Assistant Coach of the Year has only been given out since 2014 – but the Cowboys have an obvious candidate for this year's edition.
It's been just one year since Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy brought in Dan Quinn to be his defensive coordinator, and the results are obvious. The Cowboys fielded one of the worst defenses in the franchise's history, and Quinn had a big hand in helping them improve to seventh in the league in scoring defense. Most notably, he turned them into the unit that led the NFL in takeaways, finishing with 34 on the season.
Two promising youngsters vaulted into All-Pro status under Quinn's guidance. Trevon Diggs, coming off a solid rookie season, led the NFL with 11 interceptions, while Micah Parsons finished with 80 tackles and 13 sacks as a hybrid defensive playmaker.
Quinn's influence was obvious enough that he was a hot candidate for several coaching jobs, interviewing several times across the NFL before ultimately deciding to return to Dallas. That development was big enough that Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones described it as "a major coup" to keep Quinn the fold.
Across the 32 clubs in the NFL, there are plenty of deserving assistants, but it shouldn't come as a surprise if Quinn becomes the eighth recipient on Thursday night.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Class, 2022
Each year, NFL Honors also goes hand-in-hand with the announcement of the latest inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the new inductees are typically revealed during Super Bowl weekend, this year the festivities are moving to Thursday night along with the rest of the annual awards.
DeMarcus Ware is the name to know for the Cowboys. Ware is in his first year of eligibility, retiring following the 2016 season after a 12-year career that saw him named to nine Pro Bowls and earn four All-Pro selections. Add that resume to his 138.5 career sacks and the championship he won in 2015 during his time with the Denver Broncos, and it's a solid bet Ware will hear his name called on Thursday.
If Ware goes in, he'd be the 21st person named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame based predominantly on his accomplishments with the Dallas Cowboys.