The comments from Alex Smith say a lot about the injury Dak Prescott suffered Sunday. Smith hadn’t established contact because he didn’t want to freak Prescott out. He didn’t want him to think that he was heading down Smith’s terrifying and simultaneously unforgettable road.
Prescott isn’t in Smith’s situations – according to articles that have featured real doctors as sources – but he’s not exactly in a great one either. This is not a hamstring, core muscle, collarbone or even an ACL – which is an injury that used to be a death sentence and thanks to technology has turned into just a one year deal. Prescott’s ankle was turned the wrong way – his sock saving his and our eyes from his bone protruding from his leg. This might be something Prescott can move on and recover from, but he’ll move on before teams – Dallas or not – do.
This unequivocally sucks for Prescott, but it does for the Cowboys too, no matter how you feel about their handling of Prescott’s contract. Sure, this could be chalked up as karma to Jerry Jones and the rest of the Cowboys “front office.” But Prescott’s injury robs them of the chance to truly and finally evaluate whether Prescott is their guy or not. Some of their balking the past couple offseasons has been justified. Even pre-injury, $40 million per year for Prescott seemed a little steep. Jones is a businessman, and he’s looking at Prescott’s ask to be second-highest paid QB in football as preposterous when the player probably slides in somewhere between eighth and thirteenth-best in the league, depending on how you factor in rookies.
Yet, Prescott isn’t average. He may not be an elite quarterback, but he’s above-average, and ridiculous pay-days are the going rate for guys that rank in that tier. Dallas could be paying Kirk Cousins that money instead.
The Cowboys are about to find out what paying for average looks and feels like. While Andy Dalton is only making $8 million this season, even the talented offense around him – and the good group on defense when healthy – isn’t enough to prop him up to a level where he can lead Dallas to their initial expectations for this season. Dalton, especially in front of a Cowboys offensive line that has been a shell of itself, is what a potential and likely Prescott replacement looks like. That should make the Joneses woozy.
The resistance the Cowboys likely had to paying Prescott was that they possibly wouldn’t get over the hump with him under center and with talent around him on both sides. Now, Dallas doesn’t have that proof (or lack thereof it) heading into negotiations with Prescott after this season. If Prescott and the Cowboys performed up to expectations this season, the franchise wouldn’t have a choice. They’d have to pay up. If they fell short, perhaps it would have been smart for Dallas to part ways. Now, the two are in a no-mans land neither saw coming.
Dallas certainly has more leverage now, as awful as that is to write. Frankly, so does every other team in the league. Prescott’s done for the season and won’t play again. How good does a team feel handing over a massive, $100 million-plus contract to someone who – the last time he was in pads – had his ankle turned the wrong way with a bone piercing his skin?
That’s where this hits hard for Prescott – that’s what those tears represented Sunday as he was getting carted off. Not only was it the burden of his brother’s suicide and the mental struggles he had after the tragedy. Not only was it the grief he took for being vulnerable about it. Not only was it that the relationship between him and the Cowboys seemed to be getting ugly. It was that instead of one team feeling a certain way about him, 29 more had now likely joined.
Perhaps the offers will be there come spring. It seems unlikely that teams will be ready to hand Prescott a multi-year, lucrative contract despite past performance, though. It’s an injury that could make him never the same guy again. Gordon Hayward has yet to return to his normal self after his devastating dislocated ankle and broken leg in 2017. Though Prescott and Hayward have different injuries and play different sports, the trauma from it has seemed to be Hayward’s barrier since his return, along with other unlucky breaks.
There seems to be less situations like Hayward’s and more that trend toward positive outcomes, though. Though they also play different sports, Jursurf Nurkic and Caris LeVert both had horrifying leg injuries and returned back to their peak, albeit one much faster than the other. Then Cowboys receiver Allen Hurns had a similar injury in 2019 and returned to his peak the season after. And then there’s obviously Smith, who had a different injury, different complications and ultimately a different situation completely than the others but rallied.
Still, signing someone after an injury similar to Hayward’s and Prescott’s is a risk. In the Celtics case with Hayward, they signed him and then the injury occurred. They were tied to his rehab and ultimately his lack of return to form. With Prescott, teams can choose not to bind themselves to that.
That could put him in a situation similar to the one Cam Newton was in this offseason. Teams won’t bite big until they see it – until they confirm injuries haven’t derailed the players career to the point where its irreversible. A one year deal for Prescott – no matter who it’s from – is low risk for teams no matter what the cost is. No one gets locked in at big money. If a team signs Prescott, it probably won’t be to bench him. That way, they money doesn’t go to waste whether it produces results or not.
Prescott’s injury unfortunately brings his future contract down to the Cowboys level, and potentially well below it. In the worst way possible, this broke right for Dallas. They wanted Prescott at a much lower price, and they’re probably going to get it. The question is whether teams around the league challenge them on it. The reality is that every team – Dallas or not – is taking a leap of faith in doing so.