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What are Cowboys’ best options at QB if Dak Prescott leaves?
National Football League

What are Cowboys’ best options at QB if Dak Prescott leaves?

Updated Apr. 23, 2024 10:01 a.m. ET

A dilemma is brewing in Dallas. 

We all know the situation surrounding Dak Prescott and his contract saga, and the stakes are clear. At some point soon, we'll get an answer on what the Cowboys plan to do with their star quarterback as he enters the final year of his deal.

For his part, Prescott doesn't seem fazed. Asked about the situation Friday while attending an event benefitting the Children's Cancer Fund, Prescott said he's focused on the present — though he did allow for some hypothetical wiggle room.

"I don't have any fears," he said. "I'm not going to say I fear being here or not. I don't fear either situation, to be candid with you. I love this game. I love to play and love to better myself as a player and my teammates around me."

Having looked at Prescott's side last week, let's move the conversation forward. We know — roughly — what it'll look like if the Cowboys re-sign their current quarterback. Now, let's weigh the options if they don't.


It's a fitting time to consider this. I can't say I'd expect it to happen, but next week's NFL draft presents a timely opportunity for the Cowboys to signal their intent. With all the intrigue surrounding Prescott's situation, can you imagine the meltdown if this team used a big pick on a quarterback in the coming days?

Again, it's unlikely, but this is the stuff the Cowboys should be considering if they really do think they'll be without Prescott in 2025.

So, for the purposes of planning ahead, let's look at the possibilities, both right now and in the future, if Prescott signs elsewhere next spring and the Cowboys really do start a new era at quarterback. There are four realistic routes for the Cowboys to explore.

1. 2024 NFL Draft

You've likely already seen rumblings about this. ESPN's Adam Schefter made waves just last week when he suggested the Cowboys as a sleeper team to draft a quarterback, and nobody likes to grab the headlines like Jerry Jones.

It's never safe to assume the Cowboys' plan of action, but it feels like a stretch to think they'd do anything drastic. Despite their inactivity in free agency, this is still a team with playoff aspirations. Drafting a backup with the No. 24 overall pick would be a signal that the Cowboys are fully preparing for life without Prescott, but it's hard to buy Jones would do something so bold.

It wouldn't be easy, either. Sitting all the way back at No. 24 overall, the Cowboys would likely be choosing between second-tier names like Michael Penix Jr. or Bo Nix — assuming they last that long. But that would still give them an heir apparent for 2025.

Could they make a smaller investment at the position? Of course. Prescott himself was drafted in the fourth round as long-term insurance for Tony Romo, after all. 

It's hard to imagine such a move coming in the first round. But could the Cowboys use a later pick on South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, Tulane's Michael Pratt or Tennessee's Joe Milton? Sure. There is the small caveat that they don't currently have a fourth-round draft pick, but that could be fixed with some maneuvering.

It'd cause a hell of a stir, but when has that ever stopped the Cowboys before? At the very least, drafting a developmental option would give them a quarterback who is under contract for the long term. And, as we're about to get into, that's a significant detail.

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2. In-house options

Having a young quarterback under contract through 2027 sounds smart when you realize Prescott isn't the only Cowboys quarterback heading into a contract year.

Cooper Rush signed his two-year, $5 million contract to be the team's backup before the 2023 season, which means he'll be up for a new deal in March. Same goes for former No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance, whose rookie contract expires after this year.

True, the Cowboys could pick up the fifth-year option on Lance's deal — the deadline is May 2 — but does anyone believe Dallas is about to guarantee a $22.4 million salary in 2025 for a guy with four career starts under his belt? It's not happening.

Other arrangements could be made, though. If Prescott walks in free agency, the Cowboys would have plenty of money with which to retain their other quarterbacks. Lance is particularly interesting, mainly because of his prospect stock.

Clearly, things haven't gone according to plan since the 49ers traded the world to draft him, but at this time next year, Lance will still just be turning 25 and have spent two seasons in Dallas. It's anyone's guess if he could measure up to Prescott's accomplishments, but Lance at least has first-round pedigree and could be brought back for a low price.

It'd be a gutsy decision. But as you'll see, it might be the most appealing route among veteran options.

3. 2025 free-agent QBs

Officially, the 2025 free-agent quarterback class looks loaded.

The reality is a lot less promising. They might be unsigned right now, but it's a safe bet that Jared Goff, Jordan Love and Tua Tagovailoa are never going to hit free agency. We can also go ahead and assume the Jaguars will pick up Trevor Lawrence's fifth-year option, keeping him off the market. 

Prescott, if he doesn't remain a Cowboy, just might hit free agency alone in 2025, free to choose between several strong offers. He'll likely be the biggest free agent, but the Cowboys would have other options to choose from.

Chief among them might be the guys in Pittsburgh right now. Russell Wilson, 36, and Justin Fields, 26, are slated to be available in March. How they perform for the Steelers this year will go a long way in determining both quarterbacks' markets. The same could be said for Sam Darnold, who at least has a shot to start games in Minnesota.

Other than that, you're looking at a similar market to this year: spot starters and league journeymen. The Cowboys could pursue an experienced veteran like Jacoby Brissett, Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Lock or Taylor Heinicke to at least serve as a bridge to a younger option. If that's their choice in March, they'll most likely be setting the stage for a dramatic turn in April.

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4. 2025 NFL Draft

What a news cycle we'll have if the Dallas Cowboys enter next year's draft with an obvious need at quarterback — a position where they've had an established starter in place since 2006, and where they haven't used a first-round pick since Troy Aikman in 1989.

This selection might be trickier than Aikman's, as the Cowboys held the No. 1 overall pick back then. They've never had a losing record in Prescott's seven full seasons as the starter, and their average first-round draft position in that stretch has been 22nd. If they're going to make a major investment at quarterback, it likely won't be with a high pick — unless they're willing to trade even bigger assets for a bold move up the board.

Perhaps that's not worth stressing about this early. We're already hearing a lot of chatter about how lackluster the 2025 quarterback class is, but that's premature. No one was talking about Jayden Daniels as a first-round prospect at this time last year, let alone a top-five pick. Recent history is littered with college quarterbacks who rose from relative obscurity to superstar status over their final seasons in school.

Familiarize yourself with names like Colorado's Shedeur Sanders, Georgia's Carson Beck, Texas' Quinn Ewers, Alabama's Jalen Milroe and Notre Dame's Riley Leonard. If it's not one of them, someone will arise elsewhere. The position's too valuable for names not to get pushed up as we work toward next April.

The challenge for the Cowboys, as well as everyone else, would be identifying which of those is worth taking a chance on. And again, can the Cowboys select one of them without the benefit of a top-10 pick? That could require some creativity.

Moreover, committing to an unknown entity at QB would be unfamiliar territory for a team that's had a long-term answer for most of Jones' 35-year ownership tenure. That level of comfort is what makes it hard to believe he'll actually let Prescott walk away.

But if it happens, and the Cowboys are deploying a new starting quarterback, it'll be fascinating to watch them navigate it.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team's official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing "Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion" about the quarterback's time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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