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Inside all NFL quarterback upheaval, a Dak Prescott and Cowboys breaking point also looms

Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist
·6-min read

The Green Bay Packers have heard from Aaron Rodgers. Deshaun Watson has repeatedly put the Houston Texans on notice. Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford have already been swapped out of their broken relationships with the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions. Carson Wentz still appears to be in the middle of a silent protest of the Philadelphia Eagles as he presses for a trade. And lest anyone forget: Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater are all pocket-listed on the trade market, which means that while they are not yet being actively shopped by their teams, if anyone is inclined to call San Francisco, Las Vegas, the New York Jets or Carolina Panthers, there will be someone willing to pick up and listen on the other end of the line.

Quietly beneath it all, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are pressing toward a make or break moment. One last offseason contract negotiation that carries an underlying theme unlikely to change once the 2021 season kicks off.

If this doesn’t get done now, it’s never getting done.

We had a chance to talk to Troy Aikman on Thursday on the “Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast,” and he voiced a similar sentiment — echoing that while it’s still somewhat unbelievable that we’ve gotten this far down the road, it’s very believable that the road is coming to an end if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can’t engineer a last-ditch extension with Prescott.

“I was surprised [it didn’t get done in 2020],” Aikman said Thursday. “I really thought that they would have gotten a deal done a year ago. I bet that the Joneses wish they had have, too, because the price is up from where it was last year.

“I think that they’ll get a deal done this year. I can’t imagine that Dak’s playing under the franchise tag again this year. If he is, then I have a hard time believing that he’s going to finish his career with the Cowboys.”

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 11: Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and Andy Dalton (14) talk prior to the NFL game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys on October 11, 2020 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.  (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Cowboys' offense wasn't the same without Dak Prescott behind center in 2020. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aikman isn’t alone. Ever since Dallas failed to get its extension in the books last offseason and massive new deals landed for the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Texans’ Watson, the prevailing belief in other NFL front offices has been that there’s essentially zero chance Prescott is a Cowboy after 2021. Not only because a third consecutive franchise tag is essentially impossible for Dallas to carry at an estimated $54 million in 2022, but also because some other teams took notice at how Dallas tanked during a long stretch when Prescott went down with a season-ending ankle injury — both competitively and in terms of offensive production. If anything, losing Prescott in 2020 sent a parallel message to Dallas and other quarterback-needy teams about how meaningful he is as a player and leader. And that will make him a more viable free agent commodity, even at a premium price.

And if there’s anything that we’re learning about where the NFL is headed, it’s that franchises are becoming more willing to get aggressive if they believe they don’t have the right quarterback in place to be a Super Bowl contender. That was made crystal clear by the Rams dealing Goff, and the 49ers, Raiders and Panthers being willing to listen to offers for starters they all had some confidence in last season. That kind of reality is meaningful when it comes to Prescott because it knocks down any notion that if he were to hit free agency in 2022, there wouldn’t be enough suitors to land the kind of contract he’s looking for in Dallas.

Either Dallas is going to pay Prescott an elite level quarterback deal or someone else is going to step in and take that opportunity.

All of which makes this a vital offseason for the Cowboys, who are already in the thick of it, swapping out parts of the assistant coaching staff, most notably replacing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with Dan Quinn. Interestingly, the most important part of the assistant coaching staff that would have impacted Prescott — offensive coordinator Kellen Moore — not only didn’t change, but it was cemented further when the Cowboys aggressively extended Moore to keep him from taking a head coaching job at his alma mater, Boise State. That didn’t stop Moore from interviewing for the Eagles’ head coaching job late last month, which ultimately went to Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni.

A source close to the Eagles said Moore had a good interview with the team, but that Sirianni was ultimately the right fit the front office was looking for in terms of staff-building ideology and having been groomed inside a scheme that fits the Eagles’ current personnel. But Moore landing his first head coaching interview at 32 years old certainly won’t hurt his future candidacy with other teams, especially if he can produce another step forward with Prescott in 2021. It also won’t stifle the idea that Moore might ultimately be the go-to option for the Cowboys if head coach Mike McCarthy can’t turn a corner next season. That is a natural assumption surrounding a franchise that groomed Jason Garrett for a head coaching position while Garrett was on former coach Wade Phillips’ staff.

Aikman said on Thursday he didn’t think that was a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, even though he agreed there is some sensibility to Moore being an in-house candidate if McCarthy falters. The difference, Aikman suggested, is that Jones brought in Garrett with the mindset that he would likely be a future head coach. Conversely, Aikman believes Jones wants McCarthy to succeed first and foremost — moreso than the thought of eventually grooming Moore to take the reins as a head coach.

“I do think this situation is different than the one that Jason Garrett found himself in,” Aikman said. “There was a real history there with Jason Garrett and the Jones family, from his playing days, of course. The familiarity, the respect that they had for Jason as a player and then when he went into coaching, I think that was viewed, my guess is that when Jason was brought in as the offensive coordinator, he was viewed as a future candidate to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. I don’t know that Kellen Moore was thought of that way when he went from the playing field to the coaching staff.

“But my guess is — and I feel confident saying this — Jerry Jones is hopeful that Mike McCarthy will be the head coach for the next 10 years because that means a lot of good things are happening. But if that’s not the case, yeah, I think that Kellen Moore would certainly be a candidate. Whether or not they view him as, yes, we’ve got our next head coach in the building, I’m not so sure that’s an accurate statement.”

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