Cowboys QB position stabalizes after a rocky, tumultuous 2020

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Asa Henry
·6 min read
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The Dallas Cowboys’ biggest offseason question mark was answered earlier this week when the club re-signed Dak Prescott to a four-year contract. Prescott’s deal means the most important Cowboys will remain in Dallas through 2024, and in his own words, for life. The completed extension also means Dallas can move forward and fill out the remainder of their roster accordingly, including the rest of the quarterback room.

Considering Prescott is coming off a severe injury, will the club once again prioritize backup quarterback like they did in the 2020 offseason, or does Dallas feel comfortable with who they have behind their franchise signal caller? Here’s an offseason preview of the Cowboys quarterback position, and what to watch for in the upcoming weeks.

2020 Season: The beginning

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The contract negations were well documented during the 2020 offseason. Prescott was franchise tagged by Dallas, and he ultimately bet on himself by turning down the considerable long term deal Dallas was offering. As the season began to unravel, it was clear Prescott had took yet another step forward as an NFL quarterback. Through the first four games, Prescott was off to one of the best statistical starts in NFL history. If one extrapolates Prescott's stats through four complete games over a 16-game sample size, his numbers were truly ridiculous.

Player

Pass Yards

Pass TDs

INTs

Rush TDs

D. Prescott

6,760

36

12

12

Prescott topped 450 yards in three of the first four games, and was on pace to shatter Peyton Manning's record of 5,477 yards set in 2013 with Denver. Poor defensive performances by Dallas were playing a large factor, and Prescott likely wouldn't have kept up that absurd pacing, but it was obvious the former fourth-round pick would have at least contended for the passing title. Je had transformed the identity of Dallas into a dynamic, downfield passing team.

2020 Season: The injury and the fallout

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Cowboys Nation is unfortunately all-too familiar with what happened in the fifth game of the season, when Prescott broke his right ankle while trying to break a tackle attempt from a Giants' defender, ending his season in early October. Dallas had signed high-profile veteran Andy Dalton to the backup role. Dalton, under a different set of circumstances than the team could have hoped or expected, was thrust into the starting role going forward. Prescott's doubters who believed the drop-off from Prescott to Dalton would be minor were quickly quieted, as the Cowboys offense went from one of the best in the league through five games, to an offense that struggled to break 20 points more often than not. A mid-year concussion and a bout with Covid-19 cost the former Bengal Weeks 8 and 9. During Dalton's two-week hiatus the Cowboys started two young quarterbacks, both of which were making their first professional start. Rookie seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci got the first crack at the starting role in Week 8, and the results were what one would expect from someone in DiNucci's position. Young journeyman Garrett Gilbert took over the role for Week 9, and while the end result was still a loss, Gilbert showed his confidence and skills against an extremely tough Steelers defense. Gilbert's performance versus Pittsburgh even had some fans clamoring for him to start when Dalton returned, just to get a better idea of what the Cowboys had in Gilbert. Dalton would return to the lineup and eventually find his rhythm, leading the Cowboys to wins in three of the teams last four games while tossing seven touchdowns to just two interceptions over that span. Despite suffering a serious injury, it appeared Prescott's bet on himself was a smart one, as he was able to show his improved abilities, and the Cowboys were also able to see what the future could be like without their leader, and it wasn't that bright.

Who is set to return

AP Photo/LM Otero

Here are the current Cowboys quarterbacks under contract for the upcoming 2021 season:

Player

Contract Expires

D. Prescott

2025

G. Gilbert

2022

B. DiNucci

2024

C. Rush

2022 (reserve/future)

After playing on the franchise tag in 2020, the Cowboys had until March 9 to either tag Prescott a second time, or allow him to the open market. The club was finally able to close the deal with their superstar just a day before the deadline mentioned above, inking him to a huge, four-year deal, worth upwards of $160 million. Prescott's ankle injury shouldn't play any factor in his availability or ability in the upcoming season. Prescott's recovery, by all accounts, has went smoothly, and he is expected to be ready for training camp. Gilbert, while far from the perfect backup, likely has the inside track on the current No. 2 position behind Prescott, for the moment. DiNucci was thrown into a tough situation as a rookie, but from what he's shown it's hard to imagine Dallas feels comfortable with him on the game-day roster. Cooper Rush, the last quarterback on the team, has spent three years with Dallas, and figures to compete with DiNucci (and Gilbert) for the last spots on the depth chart.

Upcoming free agents

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

If one were to discuss the Cowboys upcoming free agent quarterbacks just a week ago, the discussion would be drastically different. However, now that Dallas secured Prescott long term, only Dalton is set to hit the open market. Dalton began the season slowly, but the 34-year old finished strong, and showed teams he's till capable of winning games and making the necessary plays. If Dalton is willing to take a team-friendly deal to return close to home, it could benefit the Cowboys. But should Dalton require a substantial raise, or if he wants a chance at a starting role, he'll have to look elsewhere.

Key factors to watch

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Garrett Gilbert (3). Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If Prescott had remained unsigned, there would obviously be more factors to watch. Dallas could have entertained the idea of drafting a quarterback with pick No. 10, or even trading for another star like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, but all of that is firmly out of the question now. That leaves the Cowboys with really just one question in the quarterback room, who will be Prescott's backup? Gilbert, should he continue to impress in the offseason, could have a shot at the role, but don't be surprised to see Dallas turn to a well-known like Dalton once again, Colt McCoy, Alex Smith, or one of the other many available veteran names to handle the job, like they did last year.

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