With contract in hand, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott must deliver

Quarterbacks are often judged by championships, and Dallas is putting its faith -- and $160 million -- in its franchise leader.

With contract in hand, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott must deliver

7:19 PM ET

Todd ArcherESPN Staff Writer


Covered NFL since 1997, Cowboys since 2003 Previously covered Bengals and Dolphins Lives in Dallas area with his wife and two children

FRISCO, Texas -- Gone are the days of Dak Prescott, fourth-round-pick success story.

Now that the quarterback has signed a multiyear deal with the Dallas Cowboys, he will be defined by the $160 million contract, which includes $126 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Prescott's signing bonus is $66 million, the highest in NFL history, a source told ESPN. With this megadeal, he becomes the second-highest-paid QB in the NFL.

It is now only about a Super Bowl.

There are numerous reasons the Cowboys wanted to sign Prescott, 27, to a long-term deal in each of the past two offseasons. His play on the field (106 touchdown passes, 24 rushing touchdowns and a 42-27 record) and what he means off the field (did you see how things fell apart after he was hurt in 2020?) are the main reasons.

Another is fear.

Yes, fear. There are only so many top-flight quarterbacks in the NFL. After Troy Aikman retired, the Cowboys started Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe before they lucked into Tony Romo, a 2003 undrafted free agent who did not throw a pass in a game until 2006.

While Romo would become the franchise leader in touchdown passes (248), he went 2-4 in the playoffs and the team struggled when he got hurt. Romo's backups, including Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Stephen McGee, Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, had a combined 6-19 record from 2008 to 2015.

In 2020, the Cowboys went 4-5 and scored one touchdown in the first three games without Prescott, who dislocated and had a compound fracture of his right ankle in a Week 5 game against the New York Giants.

The Cowboys selected Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He wasn't even their first pick in the fourth round as a compensatory pick, No. 135 overall. And he wasn't even their first choice. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was crushed he could not trade back into the first round to take Paxton Lynch. They wanted Connor Cook in the fourth round.

They settled for Prescott and got lucky. Really lucky.

Prescott might have been the eighth quarterback selected in 2016, but he is likely to be the last QB standing from that class who is with his original team. Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick, will be dealt by the Los Angeles Rams to the Detroit Lions as part of the Matthew Stafford trade. The Philadelphia Eagles have a deal in place to trade the No. 2 overall pick, Carson Wentz, to the Indianapolis Colts.

Prescott has started every game he has played for the Cowboys -- 69 to be exact -- and has not had a losing record as a starter in any of his five seasons. The Cowboys have won the NFC East twice and one playoff game. In 2019, Prescott set career highs in passing yards (4,902) and touchdown passes (30). In 2020, he was on pace to set an NFL record for passing yards with 1,856 in his five starts. He had nine touchdown passes and four interceptions.

We never got to see how the full marriage between Prescott and coach Mike McCarthy would play out because of the coronavirus pandemic that led to a virtual offseason program (Prescott did not participate), and then the quarterback's injury.

With this deal done, Prescott will take part in whatever the 2021 offseason will look like.

It's Prescott's work in the offseason that endears him to teammates. Even last year, Prescott had skill players to his house not far from The Star for workouts on the turf field in his backyard.

The intangibles and leadership cannot be quantified, but Pro Bowl offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb believe in Prescott when the Cowboys are in a late-game situation.

"He's everything that you want in a quarterback ... someone everyone would run through the wall for him," Martin said.

What does it mean that players on the other side of the ball know Prescott will figure out a way to win when things aren't going right for three quarters, much like he did in 2018 against Philadelphia in a Week 14 overtime win.

"It's how he works out," Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said. "He leads from the front. He's in there lifting with us, he's in there running with us. When he practices, he practices with a certain type of intensity. Like I said, leaders, the first thing they do is lead by example, and there is nobody who leads by example better than Dak."

Now, Prescott has to deliver.

Cowboys quarterbacks are judged by championships. Don Meredith was the first to find out. Then Danny White. Romo was the most recent. Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of their skill and leadership and their five combined Vince Lombardi Trophies.

Prescott's contract comes with high expectations. He has already performed above his draft position. Now the expectations are significantly higher: to win a Super Bowl.