FRISCO, Texas — If there was any doubt from anybody regarding the futures of Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys, executive vice president Stephen Jones was clear Monday that both will be back with the Cowboys in 2021.
Asked whether McCarthy would be safe regardless of how the 2020 season ends, with the Cowboys holding a 2-7 record and in the middle of a four-game losing streak, Jones said, “Absolutely. Unequivocal.”
As for Prescott, Jones once again said he is in the long-term plans of the team even though he is recovering from a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle that required season-ending surgery. At present, the Cowboys hold a top-five pick in next spring’s draft, but Jones said quarterback would not be a discussion.
“Dak is our quarterback and we’re so fired up about him and him leading us in the future,” Jones said.
Prescott was guaranteed $31.4 million on the franchise tag in 2020 and the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal last July. Should the Cowboys use the franchise tag on Prescott in 2021, it would cost $37.7 million. The Cowboys offered Prescott a five-year deal that approached nearly $35 million a year that included a $50 million signing bonus and $111 million guaranteed, but the quarterback opted to play out the season on the tag.
A top-five pick in the 2021 draft is looking at a four-year contract that would be roughly $40 million guaranteed, plus a fifth-year option.
Jones offered a positive assessment of Prescott’s recovery from surgery.
“This is a four-month injury barring setbacks and so far, if anything, everything that we’re getting from (associate athletic trainer Britt Brown) and the doctors is that he’s ahead of schedule,” Jones said. “So yes, he’s been able to avoid any setbacks and if anything, he’s ahead of schedule, which shouldn’t be surprising the way he goes after any challenge. It’s full speed ahead with Dak and he’s done a great job at this point.”
Prescott’s absence has greatly affected McCarthy’s first year, as did other key injuries to tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and tight end Blake Jarwin.
McCarthy signed a five-year deal with the Cowboys in January to replace Jason Garrett. The idea was to have a Super Bowl-winning coach take over what the organization felt was a ready-made contender, but it has not worked out that way, in part because of injuries, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and poor play.
“You’re changing a culture. You change when you change the leadership,” Jones said. “And certainly we like stability. That’s why we stayed with Jason for 10 years and we know these things don’t happen overnight in terms of when you turn things around. You throw on top of it that we had an unprecedented environment with the virus and Mike and his staff weren’t able to have interactions with the team other than virtual. There’s challenges out there but there’s a lot of other new staffs that have had the same challenges. You throw that in there, then you throw the injuries that we’ve had to work with and certainly it’s been a big challenge. We’ll continue to go to work every day and improve as a football team.”
Despite it all, the Cowboys still have a chance at a playoff spot mostly because of how abysmal the NFC East has been. The Philadelphia Eagles lead the division with a 3-4-1 record. Even though the Cowboys lost, 24-19, Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they gained confidence in pushing the league’s only undefeated team to the brink, while starting their fourth different quarterback of the season: Garrett Gilbert.
Jones said that once Andy Dalton passes the concussion and COVID-19 protocols, he will again be the Cowboys’ starter, despite a solid showing from Gilbert, who was making the first start of his career.
Jones actually used McCarthy’s Packers history as a way to illustrate his point. In 2006, the Packers started 4-8, won their final four games and were in the NFC Championship Game with a 13-3 record the following season.
“I do think we’re coming around,” Jones said. “You’ve got to take a deep breath on these things. Certainly keep your confidence in the decisions that you’ve made. I think we’ll go to work each week. I know Mike started similarly in Green Bay in terms of his first year there they finished strong and certainly that’s our goal here is to finish strong and compete in the East and we’ll go from there.”