By Jason Keidel
It seems the Dallas Cowboys have a franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott. And he will make $450,000 this year. His whole contract is worth $2.73 million. The problem is the backup — Tony Romo — will make $8.5 million this year.
Romo is in the middle of a $108 million contract, with a $25 million signing bonus, $55 million guaranteed and an average yearly salary of $18 million. The other problem is we aren’t entirely sure he should really be the backup.
The Cowboys have an epic decision to make once Romo’s brittle back is 100 percent. Do you play the man you pay like a starter? Or do you play the man who’s producing like a starter?
For all the Cowboys’ football flaws — they’ve been a soap operatic mess since Jerry and Jimmy’s tabloid divorce — they’ve conjured just enough draft-day magic to be quite relevant again.
So when Romo crumbled on the home turf two months ago, we all rushed to put our postmortems on America’s Team. Not only was Romo hurt, it was time for even the most jaded Cowboys fans to seriously ponder his age, wage and future. And, by extension, fans had to consider the franchise’s long-term prospects, which pivot off the play of the QB.
Enter Dak Prescott, who has leapfrogged Carson Wentz as the NFL’s new darling and daring QB with no time for learning curves or life lessons. He’s too busy winning and playing near-flawless football. Indeed, Prescott just broke Tom Brady’s record for most passes (177) without an interception to start a career.
Prescott has not only won over friends, fans and the locker room, he’s also revived an ancient sports debate. Should a team’s longtime starter (Romo) automatically get the ball back when he returns? Perhaps the preeminent lie in American sports is that a pro athlete can’t lose his job while injured.
Prescott has now lived up to the hyperbole echoed by Cowboys fans — perhaps the most jaded bunch in the nation. Now the Cowboys have won over the media, masses and teammates.
The team isn’t just playing better than expected, they are an astonishing narrative, led by two NFL neophytes — a rookie QB and RB — with fresh blood pumping like oil through Texas.
Prescott is more than poised and accurate, he’s athletic and a leader. A game or two could be a gridiron hiccup, but 5-1 is an authentic pattern. The Cowboys went up to Green Bay and dominated a Packer defense that yielded an absurd 42 rushing yards per game.
When you travel to Lambeau Field, you’re playing more than ghosts, history and aura. The Packers are a good team with a robust defense and a quarterback who may be struggling, but will surely be enshrined in Canton exactly five years after he retires.
Aaron Rodgers was 49-12 at Lambeau Field since he took the gig from Brett Favre. The Packers, through skill, will and some serendipity, haven’t had to worry about their starting QB for 25 years. Perhaps no franchise in NFL history has passed the Hall-of-Fame baton under center as the Packers have.
And Dallas had won just one game at Lambeau since 1992. No patterns, metrics or momentum mattered yesterday. Dallas just pounded the Packers. And they came close to ending another streak spawned by No. 12. Over the 62 home games since Rodgers settled under center, the Packers have never been shut out of the end zone. Only a late-game TD pass to Randall Cobb kept the scoring streak intact.
And Prescott did way more than take a snap and hand a ball to Ezekiel Elliott. The fledgeling QB has been branded the game manager of Dak and Dunk. But he made big-league throws yesterday, and his legs and arm have clearly transitioned from Saturday to Sunday. Even better, his mind has adjusted to the breakneck speed of the pros.
Assuming he has the skill and will to play in the NFL, the main issues with rookie quarterbacks are poise and patience, the ability to process the playbook and look beyond the primary receiver. Prescott checked down to secondary receivers like a veteran.
It’s obvious to anyone outside the Romo family that Dak Prescott has to keep the pigskin until he remembers he’s not supposed to be this good. If he keeps forgetting he’s a neophyte, and keeps playing like a champ, Dak may dunk his way into the playoffs. Who knows, maybe he can bag that hardware Mr. Jones has been jonesing for these last two decades.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.