The Dak Decision: Effects of the Season-Ending Injury
Two weeks ago, Cowboys fans watched in horror as Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending injury with a compound right ankle fracture and dislocation. After failing to agree to a long-term deal with the Cowboys during the offseason, Dak bet on himself to get the best-valued contract as possible. For the first 4 weeks, he was on an outrageous tear, passing for 1,690 yards in the first 4 full games. Despite the Cowboys' defensive and ball-handling woes, Dak's performance managed to keep the team competitive. If he had continued on this trend for the remainder of the season, there was little doubt he would have earned a hefty contract from Jerry Jones and the Cowboys.
But now, the future is much less uncertain. Not only will the team be unable to know whether that level of production could be maintained and potentially carried into the playoffs, but now the question of his future reliability must be discussed. Even if the Cowboys were to stick with Dak, there's no telling how different his ability could be coming off his injury. And thus, the question of to pay or not to pay has suddenly become a lot more complicated.
As it currently stands, the Cowboys have two main outlooks for the rest of their season. Either they win the astoundingly weak NFC East with their remaining pieces and Andy Dalton as their quarterback, or they utterly collapse without Dak and miss the playoffs. Let's examine each of these options more closely.
Despite their horrendous performance Monday night against the Cardinals, it can be argued that the Cowboys may still yet come together as a team to accumulate some solid wins. Their receiving trio of Cooper, Gallup, and rookie Ceedee Lamb is a potent threat for any defense, and Andy Dalton, having been a starter for most of his career prior to this season, is among the best backup QBs in the league. Given Dalton has time to adjust to his new starting role, the Cowboys could remain one of the best passing offenses in the NFC.
As for the running game, Ezekiel Elliott has had an unusual number of fumbles through the first 6 games, something that had never been this big of a problem before. It remains to be seen whether this issue will persist throughout the season, but if Zeke figures out how to hold onto the ball, reducing turnovers, the Cowboys offense could once again look formidable both in the running and passing game.
Let's say these possibilities come to fruition, and the Cowboys win the NFC East. They made it to the playoffs even without Dak. What's to say Jerry Jones won't take this as an indication that Dak is not worth all the money he's been asking for? From a financial and business standpoint, it might be in the Cowboys' best interest to take their chances on a fresh new QB that they can get for a much cheaper cost for the next four to five years. If the Cowboys can get to the playoffs with Andy Dalton as their QB, that risk might be worth taking.
On the other hand, suppose the Cowboys lose their division, missing out on the playoffs. Given the weak nature of their division and the early struggles the Eagles and Washington have shown this season, perhaps missing the playoffs could me an indicator of a larger problem within the organization. Given the multitude of pieces already present without Dak, this outcome could cause the Cowboys to question the overall integrity of their roster. If Zeke and the receiving core can't bring Dallas some level of success, then what's to say Dak makes them into a team capable of a deep playoff run? From a business standpoint, this result could motivate a complete overhaul in an effort to save money.
There are so many factors at play in either scenario, and much remains to be seen. However, one thing can be said for certain. No matter what Jerry Jones promises or the Cowboys faithful clamor for following this season, at this point, Dak's future as a Cowboy is incredibly uncertain.