The bar as Dallas Cowboys quarterback was set high by Tony Romo, but Dak Prescott has the tools to meet the expectations.
Much has been discussed in the wake of quarterback Tony Romo’s decision to take a job as an announcer for CBS rather than continue his playing career. There’s been talk about what the Houston Texans—a team rumored to have interest in his services—will do now and how it elevates other free agent quarterbacks like Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Fitzpatrick. What hasn’t been discussed as much is how much is expected out of his replacement Dak Prescott has to live up to now as the face of the Dallas Cowboys franchise.
In 2016, Dak wasn’t supposed to become a star, but he did. After backup quarterback Kellen Moore suffered a broken leg, the fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State moved up the depth chart. Then a back injury to Romo thrust him completely in the spotlight as Prescott was the starter for one of the most visible franchises in the NFL.
All Prescott did was lead them to a 13-3 record while winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He also broke the record for most passes to start a career without an interception by going his first 176 passes without throwing a pick—passing the mark of 162 set by Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. It wasn’t the only time he was mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Brady. Dak also became the only person besides Brady to throw for over 3,500 and have less than five picks in a season.
A tweet by NFL director of communications Randall Liu points out that, while Brady has done this twice, it took him until 2010 to hone his skills to such a precise level. As for Prescott, he became the first rookie to show such care of the ball.
Dak Prescott is the 2nd player (1st rookie) in NFL history to have 3,500+ pass yards & fewer than 5 INT in a season (Tom Brady, 2010 & 2016) pic.twitter.com/xjuzuc13xJ
Despite all he accomplished, there was the never-ending talk about what if Romo played. Sure, with Prescott they were a playoff team, but there was still the mass of fans who believed Romo would put them over the hump and make them contenders.
Aug 19, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and quarterback Tony Romo (9) talk during the pregame warmups against the Miami Dolphins at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Some Believed Romo Would Have Changed the Playoff Game
Obviously this is laughable because Prescott put together a season of efficiency Romo spent his whole career trying to achieve in just his first campaign. He also clearly wasn’t the reason they lost in the playoffs as he lead a ferocious comeback when the Cowboys were trailing 21-3 to the red-hot Green Bay Packers. After tying the game late, the Cowboy offense sat helplessly on the sidelines as their defense allowed an insane catch and long field goal to send them home.
That didn’t stop the fans from wondering. What could have been different with Romo? Could the team have come out with a better start? Could they have avoided the 21-3 deficit? All season long and into the playoffs Prescott had Romo lurking over his shoulder and many wondered “what if?”
Now that Romo is heading to the booth, that “what if?” won’t go away. Perhaps had Romo gone to another team the fans may have rooted for him and moved on, but with him donning a sport coat and microphone, fans may pine even more for the return of the guy they loved to hate.
Romo for years was a polarizing figure. He never started a game in which the Cowboys were mathematically eliminated, but was criticized as a choke artist for the regular season ending defeats we became accustomed to. Then, in 2014, he seemed to have grown as a player. He became more efficient and led Dallas to a 12-4 season. Unfortunately he couldn’t stay healthy after that, which became his downfall.
With Romo sidelined fans began to realize just what he brought to the table. In 2015 they started out 2-0 with Romo under center before a broken collarbone messed his season up. The Cowboys got another two starts from Romo as they went 1-1, but without him they were 1-11. It was depressing watching Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore struggle so mightily to fill the shoes of number nine.
Nov 24, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and quarterback Tony Romo (9) throw warm up passes before the game against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Dak Wanted Change As A Fan, Made Change As A Pro
For Prescott, unlike all the other before him, it looked easy to replace Romo. The man who once criticized Romo in a 2012 tweet was up to the task of replacing the man who had a history of infuriating fans with some ill-timed interceptions. The criticism from Dak came after the Cowboys lost to the Washington Redskins and saw their season end without a playoff berth. The exchange was highlighted by Jean Jacques-Taylor of ESPN:
“I’m DONE taking up for Romo #hadenough”
Later, he tweeted, “@JaceyPunches No! He doesn’t finish & None of those INTs were Bc of the O-line. #noexcuses”
Finally, Prescott tweeted “@jaceypunches Nah Jacey!! You’re suppose to Throw it over the guys head. That was the most embarrassing one of them all #stoptakingupforhim
Of course, the two laughed it off, but Prescott was feeling the way many fans felt. And unlike all the other fans, he was able to do something about it. Funny thing about fans though, they have short memories.
Many Cowboys fans won’t remember the frustration from that loss. Or the other season ending losses. They also won’t remember the playoff games that ended with Romo promising to do better next time. Instead, fans will remember the 34,183 yards he threw and the 248 touchdown passes. They will also remember how often Romo carried a bad team and at least would give them a fighting chance.
They will remember this because they should. Romo was an incredibly talented player and, as an undrafted quarterback, he was one of the biggest overachievers ever. What they shouldn’t do is compare Prescott to Romo any longer. But they will.
While the players are similar in that they were both regarded as long-shots in the NFL and can both improvise on the field, their similarities end there. Prescott is 13 years younger than Romo and is the future of this team. There was no decision to be made, regardless of how bad owner Jerry Jones wanted Romo to win a Super Bowl. Tony Romo had his time, and now it’s Dak Prescott’s turn.
Prescott is also a stronger leader than Romo. There was a time not too long ago that the media constantly ripped Romo for his lack of emotion and inability to lead a team. That will never be said about his heir. Prescott has the ability to relate to everyone on the team and in just one season he managed to rally an entire franchise around him. They believed in him and he made them believe in themselves.