Cowboys fans would like to see him exhibit more consistent ball placement. His footwork has improved, but still falters under duress. He needs to get better at throwing crossers, particularly to Michael Gallup.

After years of hearing about being a “Dink and Dunk” passer, he has, in turn, become a tick too aggressive, and needs to dial it back a bit. He also needs to do a better job of getting his unit into a better play when the original play call appears doomed pre-snap.

Though he has improved, Dak Prescott is still not “elite.” He may not ever attain “elite” status. Do not, however, don’t you dare try to convince yourself that Dak Prescott is a “bad” quarterback, or that his level of play is something that can be easily replaced.

Dak Prescott is not perfect. 

Dak Prescott is an above-average player, and even that designation probably sells him a bit short. Depending on how you prefer to measure things, Prescott probably falls somewhere between the 11th and 16th best QB in pro football. Anyone trying to convince you that Dak Prescott is in the bottom third of NFL signal-callers has either an agenda or some hurt feelings pertaining to another Cowboys’ QB from whom Prescott took the reigns. There is not a shred of tangible evidence that puts Prescott in the bottom rung of NFL QBs. Nobody cares about your novice, two years of junior varsity football “eye test” either.

Every team should be in the business of upgrading every position at every opportunity. Period. No one should be safe. If you want to cut bait with Dak Prescott, you had better be 100% certain you can replace him with something better, or it is a major step backward for the franchise. In a league with 32 teams, and usually less than 25 capable quarterbacks in any given year, it’s amazing that Cowboys fans of all people have forgotten how difficult it is to even find average quarterback play.

December 10th, 2000. In the first quarter of a Week 15 battle with the Washington Redskins, a scrambling Troy Aikman took a wallop from Redskins LB Lavar Arrington near the sidelines. The Hall of Fame QB was concussed on the play, and it would be the last of his career.

With no budding young prospect waiting in the wings, the Dallas Cowboys were thrust unprepared into the quarterback wasteland.

The next 88 games were rough for the Cowboys to say the least. The team went 38-50 over that stretch, and the passing game, led by a cavalcade of journeymen quarterbacks was downright atrocious. Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Ryan Leaf, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson, and Drew Bledsoe made 5 years worth of Sundays mostly unwatchable.

How bad was the passing game you ask? Cowboys quarterbacks over that span averaged just 184 yards, less than 1 TD (.94/GM) and more than 1 INT (1.22/GM) per game, posting 6.1 yards per attempt. Drew Bledsoe’s 2005 season was the only season during that span where a Cowboys QB cleared the very low bar of 60% completions (60.1%), and threw more touchdowns than interceptions (23/17).

Undrafted Tony Romo took over for a struggling Bledsoe in Week 6 of 2006, and the team was fortunate to be excavated from the wasteland. Romo provided the Cowboys with exemplary QB play for 9 seasons before history briefly repeated itself.

In 2015, Romo suffered a series of injuries and missed 12 games. The Cowboys again had to wade into the wasteland for quarterbacks, as Matt Cassell, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden, and Mark Sanchez put Cowboys fans through sheer agony on the way to a 4-12 campaign. Cowboys QBs over that span averaged a somewhat respectable 233 yards per game, but still just 6.8 YPA, and .91 TD/GM vs 1.25 INT/GM.

Unprepared again, the Cowboys were again saved, this time by 4th round quarterback project Dak Prescott after Romo succumbed to injury.

As we know, Prescott took over and never looked back. So here we sit. Year 4 of the Prescott era nearly complete. A Rookie of the Year award, 2 division titles (a third pending this Sunday’s outcomes), 3 years with a QBR above 69. Clear cut leader, maturity-wise everything you want as the face of an NFL franchise, undeniable improvement in each season. Still. Cowboys fans want to move on in search of “elite.”

Okay. Tell me how. 

Franchise quarterbacks don’t typically become available via free agency. Why? Stay with me here. Smart teams don’t let good quarterbacks out of the building because it’s the most important and hardest to replace the position in sports.

“Well, just draft a guy.”

Anyone who thinks that you just turn in a draft card and the football gods just spit you out a franchise QB, no muss, no fuss hasn’t been paying attention. Let’s have a look at the QBs drafted in the first round this century. I have excluded later rounds because the successful QB finds are so few and far between beyond the 1st round that they aren’t worth listing. I have also clipped the data after the 2015 draft. Not because it helps or hurts my point, but because the book is still out on many of those quarterbacks, and it’s hard to levy a definitive judgment on their career success. All in all, what we are looking at here is a list of all 41 1st round QBs drafted between 2000-2015.

I have categorized them as franchise QB, serviceable, or bust based on my own opinion. Feel free to adjust the numbers to fit your view of the players listed.

Franchise QBs (11): Chad Pennington, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck

Serviceable (5): Byron Leftwich, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater

Busts (25): David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jamarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Jack Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

  • 27% Franchise QB rate

  • 61% bust rate

  • Multi-year stretches with zero franchise QBs found. 2006-2007, 2013-2015

  • Only 10% of QBs drafted after round 3 make 16+ career starts. Only 28% have even ONE career start

“Just draft a guy,” even in the first round where your odds are best is a carnival game. Some teams have been dumping tokens into the “just draft a guy” game for more than a decade trying to bring that big, fluffy, stuffed QB home to their fans.

The Cleveland Browns have honestly been in the wasteland since 1991. That’s the last time they got a full season of plus QB play from one guy (Bernie Kosar). The Browns have spent 5 first-round picks in the last 20 years (Tim Couch 1999, Brady Quinn 2007, Brandon Weeden 2012, Johnny Manziel 2014, Baker Mayfield) trying to find a quarterback before kinda, sorta, finding a QB now with Baker Mayfield who’s book is still being written.

The Buffalo Bills last “franchise QB” was Drew Bledsoe in 2004. The next year the team let Bledsoe walk, and spent 2 first-round picks to trade up for J.P. Losman. They spent a third-rounder on Trent Edwards two years later and also made E.J. Manuel the only 1st round quarterback in a historically bad 2013 QB draft class. Here now, 15 years since Bledsoe, the Bills have something with Josh Allen, but “franchise” status is still up in the air at this juncture.

The Miami Dolphins have really only emerged from the wasteland for a single, standalone season since Hall of Famer Dan Marino’s last game in 1998. The team got a nice year out of Chad Pennington in 2008, but that’s really about it. 2012 first-rounder Ryan Tannehill never really developed into anything special, and the team is still searching.

The Washington Redskins got a spectacular rookie season from Robert Griffin III before injuries and other factors derailed that train. That 2012 season was the only break from the wasteland for Washington between Mark Brunell’s solid 2005, and Kirk Cousins’ solid 2015. The team obviously wasn’t sold on Cousins as they have moved on, and hope now lies with 2019 first-round selection Dwayne Haskins.

The list goes on as the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears, and Oakland Raiders can all tell recent campfire horror stories of years mired in the quarterback wasteland.

Before you say “it won’t happen to us” like the sauced businessman, stumbling out to start his car after happy hour for the 100th time, think about this. Accurate or inaccurate, the consensus amongst fans is that the Dallas Cowboys’ front office is incompetent, is it not? So with that in mind, are you going to trust the guys who were heartbroken after missing out on Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook before settling for Dak Prescott to find the next great franchise QB? Yea, me either. What happens when the next undrafted Romo or the next 4th round Prescott doesn’t fall from the sky and they really have to go find a guy?

So what do you do?

You pay the man. You pay Dak Prescott top 5 money. After that, you trust the forthcoming salary cap spike, and imminent massive contracts of guys like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson to drive the quarterback money up into the stratosphere, quickly turning Dak Prescott’s top 5 deal into about a top 15 deal within 18-24 months time.

You trust Dak Prescott to improve each year, as he has shown you he will work his tail of to do, and you continue to build the team and scheme around him to best help him succeed.

You simply don’t throw away a competent quarterback and go wading into the quarterback wasteland voluntarily. Good quarterbacks are too valuable and too rare to just go tossing aside and don’t you dare kid yourself thinking Dak Prescott isn’t a good quarterback.

Having Dak Prescott as your quarterback is like being dealt an 18 in blackjack. An 18 is going to win you a lot of hands if you just sit tight.
If you press your luck and take another card, you might do better. The odds, however, suggest that you won’t, and it might be quite sometime before you are dealt a favorable hand again.

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