With all the talks of contract extensions around the Dallas Cowboys, many thought the first to be signed would be either bell cow running back Ezekiel Elliott or darling quarterback Dak Prescott. Next in line may have been newcomer wide receiver Amari Cooper, or lockdown cornerback Byron Jones. However, Jerry Jones had different plans when he made the big-hitting inside linebacker Jaylon Smith an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Before we breakdown the contract, let’s look back at Jaylon’s interesting story as an NFL player. He finished junior season at Notre Dame by winning the Butkus Award (college football’s top linebacker) just before tearing his ACL & MCL with significant nerve damage in the Fiesta Bowl. A probable overall top 5 NFL draft choice, turned into a question mark of if he will ever be able to play the sport he grew up loving, ever again. Smith declared for the 2016 NFL Draft with scouts projecting him to go anywhere from the 2nd round to the 6th round with teams unsure how quick he could recover, if at all. The Dallas Cowboys selected him 34th overall. It was a gamble, but one that Jerry did not want to miss out on like he did with Randy Moss 18 years prior.
Once Jaylon became a Cowboy, he did everything he could to make it back on the football field. When he did, in 2017, he did not disappoint, recording 81 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. He only started 6 games, but played in all 16, a milestone in and of itself. The next season was a breakout year for both him and the Cowboys 1st round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch. They finished the season as one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL, all the while working as if they were given nothing and had to earn everything.
The overall numbers: $5 million signing bonus, $35.5 million guaranteed, for a total of $64 million over 6 years.
This seems to be a cap-friendly deal, Every. Single. Year. With the NFL salary cap steadily increasing $10 million a year since 2013, the $12-13 million cap hits from 2022-2025 will be a bargain for a quality starting linebacker and team leader, that wants to be a Dallas Cowboy for life.
Jaylon Smith’s goal was to allow his mom to retire, and he has definitely accomplished that. All the while, still giving the owner and team that took a chance on him 3 years ago, the ability to build a Super Bowl contending team around him.
Zeke and Dak did Jaylon a huge favor this preseason, by holding out and asking for a ridiculous $40 million/year deal, respectively. Zeke angered one of, if not the only person, that had his back through every personal issue on and off the field. Jerry Jones will treat a player he loves like family; but, turn on him, and he will do the same in return. It looks as if both agents will have to go back to the drawing board with the Cowboy’s front office, while Jaylon Smith slowly inches his way up the fan-favorite list in Cowboy Nation. Look to see a lot more #54 jerseys in the stands this year as Jaylon Smith just signed a contract to be in the Silver & Blue for at least 10 years.
The Cowboys’ offensive line has been considered one of the best in the NFL for the past few years. Most of this is due to the outstanding play of Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. The problem is not that their play is declining or their talent is diminishing, but that their health may not be able to keep up.
Zack Martin left the second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury. The good news is that there is no ligament damage; he was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bone. However, knee problems and offensive lineman have never been a good mix. Martin will not play in the last two preseason games, and aims to be back for week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
Travis Frederick had been dealing with a ‘stinger’ since August 15th. He missed the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals and has had several doctor’s appointments since then. A week later, on August 22nd he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves. The Mayo Clinic says that for most people with GBS, the condition worsens for 2 weeks after the first signs and symptoms and plateaus within a month. Recovery usually lasts 6-12 months, but could take as long as three years. Jerry Jones was optimistic that Frederick would play week 1 before the diagnosis, but now Frederick says there is no timetable for his return.
The third and best of this trio, is Tyron Smith. He has looked like his future gold jacket wearing self in the first two preseason games, and says that he is “feeling great now” and is “in the best shape I’ve been in a while”. Unfortunately, that is coming from a 6’5″ 320 pound man who had bulging disk problems in 2016, and missed several games due to back, hip, groin and knee problems in 2017. If you had to think of injuries not to have as an NFL left tackle, at least 3 of those would be in the top 5. Dak Prescott would be the first to tell you Smith’s importance to the Dallas offense, considering Dak was sacked 8 times in the first game Tyron missed due to injury last year. It should be noted that 6 of those sacks were by Adrian Clayborn, the defensive end that Smith would have been responsible for blocking.
With Cameron Fleming added through free agency there is seemingly better depth at tackle than last year. He is a swing tackle that can fill in better than Chaz Green did in 2017. Second round draft pick Connor Williams will most likely be starting at left guard opposite Zack Martin (if healthy). Joe Looney started at center in the absence of Frederick against the Bengals, and looked as if he could benefit from a few more reps in the final two preseason games. La’el Collins is holding his own at the right tackle position, and seems to be feeling more comfortable with each snap.
All in all, the Cowboys offensive line is a force to be reckoned with…if healthy. But if injuries become an issue, especially with the three All-Pro lineman, Zeke will not be saying “feed me” as much and Dak will be running for his life. Jason Garrett better be praying for a healthy offensive line in 2018, or he may be finding himself getting his resume together in January.
UPDATE: La’el Collins limping with heavily taped ankle on 8/23/18. Yup, the only healthy Cowboys offensive lineman in rookie, Connor Williams.
It seems this saga has finally come to an end as Ezekiel Elliott’s brief 1 game injunction of his suspension is now over, and Zeke will begin his 6 game suspension this week. The Cowboys go to Atlanta to play the 4-4 Falcons. If all goes as planned, Zeke should be ready to join his teammates at AT&T Stadium for the game against the Seattle Seahawks on Christmas Eve.
The Dallas Cowboys will have to play without Zeke for 3 away games against the Falcons, Giants, and Raiders. They will miss him at home against the Eagles, Chargers, and Redskins.
The first quarter of the 2017 NFL season is over; and while it’s still a very young season, there is much to be learned. These are my three largest concerns heading into week 5 of the season.
These are the 53 players to make the cut for Dallas Cowboys for the 2017 NFL Season
QB: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Kellen Moore
RB/FB: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TE: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
OL: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Joe Looney, Byron Bell
DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper
DT: Stephen Paea, Maliek Collins, Brian Price
LB: Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Jayrone Elliott, Justin Durant
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Bene Benwikere
S: Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
K: Dan Bailey
P: Chris Jones
LS: LP LaDouceur
Suspended: David Irving (DE), Damontre Moore (DE), Randy Gregory (DE)
IR: Thomas Duke (CB), Rico Gathers
Practice Squad: Lance Lenoir (WR), Brian Brown (WR), Blake Jarwin (TE), Dan Skipper (OL), Nate Theaker (OL), Kadeem Edwards (OL), Richard Ash (DT), Lewis Neal (DT), Marquez White (CB), Jameill Showers (S)
Notable Players to Miss the Cut: Cedric Thorton (DT), Joey Ivie (DT), Marquez White (CB), Robert Blanton (S), Mark Nzeocha (LB)
From the moment he was drafted, fans, analysts, players and coaches, have tried to figure out exactly how to classify Dak Prescott as a NFL quarterback. Some call him clutch, others say he is a game manager, there are those that see another scrambling runner, some even say he is fortunate being the benefit of circumstance, and of course there are a few who merely see another rookie quarterback. Is it possible that all of these are true, while also all being false at the same time? Maybe Dak is something yet to be seen in the National Football League.
This may be the easiest category to put Dak in, considering he has three game-winning drives in the last 5 minutes through his first 14 starts in the NFL. Moreover, the two games in which he did not successfully complete that game-winning drive can easily be blamed on bonehead plays by his wide receivers. In week 1, Terrance Williams does not get out of bounds to allow Dan Bailey to attempt, an albeit long, game-winning field goal. In week 14, Dez fumbles with 2:25 left on the clock on what would have been a potential game-winning or game-tying drive. Not to mention, Dak also came back from trailing Minnesota and Tampa Bay in the 4th quarter, and being down 14-0 in San Francisco.
Naysayers of Dak’s clutchness will argue that to be able to have a game winning drive, he must first dig himself into a hole. Prescott has trailed in the 4th quarter in half of his first 14 games. This does seem worrying, until finding out that finding out that the top 6 quarterbacks in NFL history in 4th quarter comebacks are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, and Brett Favre. Not too shabby of a list.
Moving from the easiest to the hardest category, the evidence of Dak’s running ability is both apparent and sparing. Anyone that has watched this kid play can see that he can be extremely elusive in the pocket and more than able to scramble for the first down when needed. Dak is also tied with Tyrod Taylor for most rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks, with six.
Sounds like a rushing quarterback so far. But, looking deeper, Dak rushes for less than 20 yards per game, and at 4.6 yards per carry, he is not even in the top ten YPC for quarterbacks. Dak’s longest run of the season so far is 18 yards; fourteen quarterbacks have longer runs in 2016. So, is Dak a running quarterback who misses opportunities from not having his eyes down field outside of the pocket, or is he an athletic quarterback that has the ability to run when all options have been exhausted? The latter seems to be the fairer description.
One of the biggest stigmas a quarterback can carry these days is being labeled a ‘Game Manager’. Just ask 2012 Alex Smith. Being a game managing quarterback means relying on team strengths to win games, whatever that may be. If a team has the best offensive line and league-leading rusher, a HOF route-running tight end, and a high caliber slot receiver that runs underneath routes; would it not be extremely selfish to rely completely on the quarterback’s talents to win games?
One of the best comparisons to the perfect game manager would be Isaiah Thomas. Yes, NBA Hall of Fame point guard, Isaiah Thomas. He would setup his teammates the entire game, because there was a wealth of talent on those Bad Boys Detroit Pistons teams. However, when two minutes were left in the game and the Pistons needed a bucket, Isaiah came through. Sounds eerily familiar to a game on October 30th when Dak had relied on his team in the first three quarters, and became the hero in the 4th quarter and overtime to give the Cowboys another W. Is Dak a game manager? Maybe, but make sure not to view that term negatively next time it is said, because many would also call 4-time Super Bowl Champion, Terry Bradshaw, a game manager. As a matter of fact, check out this list of the Top 15 Game Managing Quarterbacks and see how many collective Super Bowl rings are worn on their fingers.
What would Dak do without the best offensive line, the league-leading rusher, an All-Pro receiver and a HOF tight end? Great question, fortunately it is one that does not have to be answered, at least not now. In the same way that these questions were not answered about Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger during their rookie seasons. Is Dak in a great situation? Absolutely!
Did this all fall into his lap? Absolutely not! He worked extremely hard during the summer to be the most prepared backup quarterback to Tony Romo that he could be, and when the opportunity to be the starter presented itself, Dak was ready. Not many rookie quarterbacks would have been able to do what Dak has done so far this season. Just look at Jared Goff. He could not even earn the starting job on a terrible Los Angeles Rams team, from a mediocre quarterback, until more than halfway through the season. Perhaps Dak Prescott is a fan of author Michael Korda, who said “Luck can often mean simply taking advantage of a situation at the right moment. It is possible to make your luck by always being prepared”.
Everyone heard the cries of Dak hitting a rookie wall and contemplated putting Romo back in the starting role after the second loss to the Giants. Really? 11-2 and people are complaining? Are they forgetting the back-to-back 300 yard passing feats against Pittsburgh and Baltimore? Are they forgetting that through 14 weeks, Dak has the 3rd best passer rating and 2nd best QBR in the league? December 11th against the Giants was a division road game, in freezing conditions, against the second-best team in the NFC, and the Cowboys lost by 3 with a chance to win at the end.
If only Dak could do something to quiet his critics. Maybe coming out the next week and getting a huge home win against the hottest team in the NFL, while also posting the second best completion percentage (with at least 30 attempts) since the 1970 merger will do the trick. Dak is far from a typical rookie quarterback. Does he still make rookie mistakes? Yes, but from watching his composure during games, he looks more like a 10-year veteran quarterback than a rookie.
So maybe Dak is a clutch, running, game-managing, lucky, rookie quarterback. Or maybe, he is his own type of quarterback, and one that future quarterbacks will be compared to.
One thing that no one can argue is that Dak Prescott is a WINNING quarterback in the National Football League.