Dak Prescott’s new deal means Super Bowl or Bust for the Cowboys

Now that the Dallas Cowboys have finally signed Dak Prescott to a long-term deal before 2021 NFL free agency, they’re officially out of excuses to win a Super Bowl. Owner Jerry Jones has the quarterback he wants in Prescott, the roster he wants featuring Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Tank Lawrence, and others, and the coach he wants in Mike McCarthy. This is the team Jones pushed the limits of quantum capenomics to acquire and pay for, and the time to compete for a championship is past due.

No more excuses. Growing pains don’t exist. No more Jason Garrett. It’s 2021 (or maybe 2022, 2023 at the latest) or never.

Will something inevitably go wrong? Of course — that’s what “inevitably” means, after all! But let’s not focus on the many ways Jerrah and McCarthy can screw things up. Instead, let’s focus on what an excellent opportunity the Cowboys have created for themselves in 2021.

Dak Prescott’s new deal — Jerrah dodges a bullet

The Cowboys should have been Super Bowl contenders in 2020. Then everything that could go wrong went wrong. (Now that’s a concise description of 2020 for most of us).

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Prescott suffered a severe ankle injury, of course. Backup Andy Dalton also missed several weeks. But even before the injury, the Cowboys looked unprepared in many games, as if McCarthy and his staff were caught more off-guard by the realities of football during a pandemic than their opponents. Fumbles, special teams lapses, offensive line injuries, inconsistent defensive effort, dubious play calls, Ben DiNucci, you name it. They all kept the Cowboys from rising to the top of the fetid swamp of the NFC East.

Did the Cowboys time Prescott’s deal correctly with other team needs?

The Cowboys should also have signed Dak Prescott to a long-term contract instead of franchise tagging him last year. Jerrah could have saved himself lots of dough if he had acted quickly, rather than piggy-backing $95 million in full guarantees atop the $31.4 million Prescott earned in 2020.

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But as so often happens, Jerrah’s blunder turned into a secret success. Last year, a long-term deal might have carried a large cap hit for this year, which could have crippled the Cowboys in a year with a reduced salary cap. By waiting until this week, Jerrah created immediate cap relief in a year when the Cowboys really need it. By the time Prescott’s cap numbers go banana pants in 2023 and 2024, this year’s belt-tightening will be a distant memory (please), and a new television contract will blow the roof of the salary cap into the troposphere.

In other words, the owner, whose son saved him from drafting Johnny Manziel and selected Prescott as a fourth-round afterthought, inadvertently created a Super Bowl window for himself through cap mismanagement. Tune in to Dallas sports talk radio next week to hear Jerrah explain that it was his plan all along.

The Dallas Cowboys are legitimate 2021 Super Bowl contenders

The Cowboys are far from a perfect team. But a happy/healthy Dak Prescott makes them better than they were most of last year. And there are plenty of other reasons to believe that 2021 could be their year:

  • The wide receiver corps of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup is among the best in the NFL.
  • Tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, and guard Zack Martin are expected back from injuries to anchor what was an excellent offensive line in past seasons.
  • Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a money pit, but he’s still pretty good.
  • Dan Quinn is an upgrade over 2020 defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. A scarecrow with a parrot trained to say “Squawk! Cover 2!” would be an upgrade over Nolan.
  • Tank Lawrence leads a defense with enough talent to win if the Cowboys’ offense lives up to expectations.
  • Washington is a team without a name or quarterback. The Giants are on a 17-year rebuilding plan. The Eagles are selling home electronics for gas money. The NFC East will be easy pickings next year.
  • With the New Orleans Saints also having their furniture repossessed to clear cap space, the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only superpowers in the NFC. There’s room for one more.
  • Mike McCarthy may be a bit of a self-promoter with an Ask Madden playbook, but he proved in his time with the Packers that he’s capable of winning when he has a great quarterback and receivers — which, admittedly, wouldn’t be all that hard for anyone.

What’s that spell?

Add it all up, and the Cowboys have a golden opportunity to slide into the Super Bowl conversation in 2021. All they have to do is add some pieces on defense, get healthy on offense, and not do anything stupid at the coaching/ownership level. Their odds of accomplishing two of those three things are excellent.

What’s next for the 2021 Dallas Cowboys

At press time, the Cowboys still had some housekeeping to do to become cap compliant after Dak Prescott’s new deal.

Their in-house free agent to-do list isn’t very long. Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are likely gone. Still, rookie Trevon Diggs developed from a human charcoal briquet to a decent defender in 2020, softening the potential blow in the secondary. Jerrah has bent financial spacetime to a degree that the Cowboys could pursue one of their veteran cornerbacks, edge rusher Aldon Smith, or at least shop for discounts in the latter stages of free agency.

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The 10th overall pick in April’s draft should net the Cowboys a high-impact defender, especially with so many of the teams ahead of them jockeying for quarterbacks and wide receivers. After that, the Cowboys must hope for a semi-normal offseason where coaches can look players in the eye and direct drills during minicamp. Every other team is hoping for the same thing, but normalcy will favor the most talented teams. In the NFC East, that’s the Cowboys.

If everything goes according to plan, the Cowboys will contend for the Super Bowl. And if not, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Want more NFL news and analysis beyond Dak Prescott’s new deal?

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