On Sunday, a Dallas Cowboys team that was apparently going through a nightmare season saw its worst fears. In the third quarter, Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury. Once you've seen the piece, you won't forget what you've seen for a long time. If you haven't seen the piece, consider yourself lucky. Injuries are part of football and don't discriminate against good or bad people, or between stars and ordinary players, but it was difficult not to be overwhelmed when a weeping Prescott was dragged off the field.
The Cowboys backed Andy Dalton, who led a late ride to score a game-winning field goal and a 37:34 win over the Giants. The 2-3 cowboys are now number one on the lazy NFC East, but what happens next can go many different ways. Let's reset the scene and pin down everything you need to know after Prescott's heartbreaking injury:
Jump to a section:
Could this be a career-threatening injury?
Should Prescott have accepted the Dallas offer?
Is Andy Dalton Really Good?
Can the Cowboys still win the NFC East?
Should the cowboys try to get another QB?
What if they decide to move on?
After the game tied between 23-23 in the third quarter, the Cowboys chose a scheduled quarterback draw. Prescott broke through an attempted attack and then attempted to arm Giants defender Logan Ryan with stiff arms. When Ryan pulled Prescott down, the quarterback's ankle caught under Ryan. We often see players sprain badly when their ankles are caught at such an angle, but when Prescott got out of the tackle, his ankle was pointed the wrong way.
There was nothing malicious or uncomfortable about the device, or anything that anyone realistically could have done to prevent the injury. The Cowboys use Prescott as a runner for designed games, but his workload is not exorbitant or unreasonable. He had been remarkably healthy as a professional as the 27-year-old had never appeared in the injury report before his fall on Sunday.
Officially, the Cowboys announced that Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, meaning the bone penetrated his skin as part of the injury. ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that he had an operation on his ankle on Sunday evening. His season is likely over and the Cowboys will put Prescott in injured reserve sometime this week.
Could this be a career-threatening injury?
Prescott should definitely be able to return. While the injury was undoubtedly gruesome, players from all sports in the past have been able to return from similar injuries and continue their careers. In baseball, Jason Kendall, Moises Alou and Robin Ventura have been able to return from compound ankle fractures and maintain a long career. In basketball we recently saw Celtics striker Gordon Hayward dislocate his ankle and fracture his tibia, miss an entire season and then return the following year.
Most importantly, we've seen soccer players overcome this injury, including ball carriers. The veteran who ran back LeSean McCoy suffered a compound ankle fracture in high school. On the pro level, Connor Barwin and Allen Hurns were able to overcome dislocated ankles and return to the sport. Of course, no two injuries are the same, but there are precedents for players to get back to playing at the highest level.
Given that Alex Smith returned to the field the same day Prescott was injured, it is only natural to try to compare Prescott's injury to that of the Washington quarterback. They are not the same. Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibula and then dealt with a life-threatening infection that resulted in doctors performing a total of 17 surgeries. We won't know until Prescott leaves the hospital and begins rehabilitation, but the natural hope is that he can avoid infection or other complications after the operation.
Dak Prescott was hospitalized with a serious injury to his right ankle that forced him to leave the game on a cart and tearfully. Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports
No one can say for sure that when they return they will be the same player. Ankle injuries can cause serious problems with quarterbacks. While his injury is nowhere near as severe, take Jimmy Garoppolo as an example. When the 49ers quarterback suffered a severe ankle sprain in Week 2, I mentioned that quarterbacks suffering from a severe ankle sprain have a habit of sailing their throws when they come back, resulting in sailed passes and interceptions. Garoppolo returned on Sunday and ran 7 of 1777 yards with two sail picks before being benched at halftime.
Prescott must restore his footwork as a passerby. He may also not be as explosive or effective as a runner, which has been an underrated and valuable part of his game for the past five years. He could come back as the same guy and look like the injury never happened. He could also return as a less mobile and versatile player, which would cost some of his game.
How does this affect his future with the cowboys?
Nothing changes in the short term. Prescott is playing on Franchise Day, which guarantees him $ 31.4 million in 2020. He will still collect this money even if he is placed in an injured reserve. As before the injury, he is no longer under contract after week 17, although Dallas has ways to keep him close.
The franchise's three ways of doing what with Prescott haven't changed either. The cowboys can let him go and have unlimited free hand. In that case, they wouldn't get direct compensation, although in the 2022 draft they would likely get a third-round equalization selection if they didn't sign a similarly expensive player in the free agency. They can also sign him for a contract renewal, which they've tried and haven't done for the past two off-seasons.
The most likely outcome before and after the injury is the third option: a second franchise day. The Cowboys can offer Prescott another one-year contract that guarantees the Mississippi state product $ 37.7 million for the 2021 season. The move would amount to a $ 6.3 million increase, but with a cap from $ 198.2 million in 2020 to $ 175 million as a result of local revenue, the team would get the pinch of a second day feel even more. Prescott currently occupies 14.4% of Dallas' cap space, but it would occupy a little closer to 18.9% next year. With a cap of $ 175 million, $ 37.7 million corresponds to Prescott's payment of nearly $ 42.7 million for this year's cap.
At the same time, a second day makes sense for both sides. The Cowboys may not want to make long-term engagements with Prescott until they find their starter healthy again, which they can't see on a soccer field before the March Franchise Day deadline expires. Franchising is the only way to retain your rights before the free trade and it would give them five months to negotiate an extension before the July deadline for handing over long term franchise contracts.
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Likewise, a franchise day seems preferable for Prescott. He has repeatedly turned down contract renewals from the Cowboys, hoping to go from year to year and get exactly what he wants, be it from the Cowboys or some other organization. While the two sides were reportedly close to the average salary of a new deal this summer, the deal fell apart due to disagreements over its length.
Dallas, which typically enjoys handing out the longest contracts in football to keep control of its players while maintaining the flexibility of the cap, wanted a longer deal. Prescott was aiming for a three- or four-year deal in hopes of signing a short-term deal and returning to the free agency after the league signed its new television deals over the next two years. From that point on, the cap is expected to increase dramatically.
It is possible that Prescott's injury could change his mind and encourage the veteran to take everything the team is offering as part of the longest possible deal. Given that he has consistently bet on himself and earned a base salary of more than $ 31 million this year alone, it wouldn't be shocking if he continued down this path after the injury.
Should Prescott have accepted Dallas’s long-term offer?
After the injury, the worst people on Twitter were excited to talk about how silly Prescott was to turn down the team's long-term offers before suffering his injury. It doesn't matter that we didn't see any details of the contract offer or how much money it would have realistically spent as part of a deal. Every player has to deal with risk, and whenever a player misses a long-term option and is then injured, we see players closing below market value deals before staying healthy and regretting their choices, like Chris Harris Jr. and Adam Thielen.
While we don't know what a Prescott deal could have done, the reality is that it was already guaranteed $ 31.4 million from franchise day. If he can't play in 2021, the Cowboys will likely franchise him again, paying him $ 37.7 million over two seasons for a total of $ 69.1 million. At that point, he could either garner a third franchise day for $ 54.3 million or hit unrestricted free action. He would almost certainly have guaranteed his base salary for 2022 as part of an extension, but I'm not sure if he would actually have made much more money signing an extension than he would go from year to year.
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If Prescott can't play in 2021 for whatever reason, he might be protected too. During the quarterback's 2019 negotiations, Schefter reported that Prescott had written impairment and disability and endorsement contracts valued at more than $ 50 million. It is unclear if he still has such insurance, but it is clear that he has thought about what could happen if he got injured in recent years. At least he was aware of this possibility and the risk he was taking.
Andy Dalton is now the starter of the Cowboys. Is he good?
Dalton was solid on Sunday. While a bad exchange resulted in a fumble, a short field and a Giants touchdown, the longtime Bengals starter passed 9-of-11 for 111 yards after taking over. With a tie of 34, Dalton completed three passes for 72 yards to score a game-winning field goal from Greg Zuerlein. The only positive thing was to take a terrible Sunday from the cowboys.
There are two questions here. One of them is easy to answer: I think Dalton has no hope of keeping up with Prescott's production on this offensive, be it what we saw in 2019 or in the first four games of 2020. Remember: Prescott threw for more yards than any quarterback in football history in the first four games of 2020, and it hasn't been particularly close. Dalton just won't absorb that kind of volume.
Can Dalton be good enough to win games? That's possible, although he's been able to lead the Cowboys much better on the way into this season than with the current version of this team. In Dallas, five starters are missing on the offensive, including Prescott. Three of them are on the offensive: Center Joe Looney is out for a few weeks, but the first tackles against Tyron Smith and La & # 39; el Collins are out for the season. The Cowboys started three offensive linemen on Sunday with a combined start in the NFL before 2020 in Tyler Biadasz, Terence Steele and Brandon Knight.
Michael Gallup does a spectacular side effect to bring the cowboys within reach and set up Greg Zuerlein's game-winning field goal.
Dalton has a borderline MVP season on his 2015 résumé in Cincinnati when he picked up top notch guns like A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert and probably the best offensive line in the league. The cowboys can give Dalton the guns, but their passport protection is suspect. During his last two seasons in Cincinnati, a decaying offensive line left Dalton in the lurch, and the TCU product failed to make up for it. The Bengals ranked 31st on the Pass Block win rate between 2018-19, and Dalton's numbers crashed in the process. He finished 28th in both the passerby rating and the QBR when he was pressured over those two years, and while the cowboys in Zack Martin still have a star lineman, their line could otherwise be worse than the one behind the Dalton worked in Cincinnati.
The Cowboys were pass-friendly and played with one of the fastest odds in the league this season, partly due to the circumstances: the teams throw a lot and play fast if they lose two touchdowns in the first half of each week. With Dalton in the lineup, I would expect Dallas to slow down and rely more on Ezekiel Elliott despite the conduction issues. A slowdown also eases pressure on the Dallas defense, who finished 24th in the DVOA in four weeks. Dalton still has one of the NFL's most talented recipient groups, but he won't be using them as often.
Can the cowboys still win the division?
Absolutely, though that's more of a commentary on what has come to be known as the NFC Least than Dallas' performance. The Cowboys were the only NFC East team to win on Sunday. They jumped to first place with 2-3 and were half a game ahead of the 1-3-1 Eagles. Washington (1-4) has lost four straight times and is below the top two quarterbacks, while the Giants are 0-5 trying to hide behind the Jets on the backs of New York tabloids.
The Eagles haven't lost their quarterback, but they have brutal injury problems of their own. When you've listed the top eleven players on offense on paper, only four are healthy and playing right now: Carson Wentz, Miles Sanders, Jason Kelce and Zach Ertz, the latter of whom scored a pass for six yards to six targets on Sunday. Ertz had 70 yards against the Bengals in week 3 and 76 yards in his other four games, despite playing virtually every snap. He's in the field, but the starry end doesn't look like his usual self.
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At the start of week five, the cowboys were still favored to win the division. The ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) gave Dallas a 62.1% chance of winning the NFC East. Those odds will increase as the cowboys win and advance to first place. The Caesars Sportsbook still lists them with +1100 chances to win for the NFC, way ahead of the Eagles with +2200 and good for the sixth highest chance of winning in the conference.
Nobody in the Cowboys organization would have wanted to start 2-3 and lose Prescott for the season, but if those two things happened, these would basically be the best possible circumstances the team could find themselves in.
Should the cowboys get another quarterback?
The cowboys will be the focus for the time being with Dalton and Ben DiNucci from the seventh round. Former backup Cooper Rush is a free agent after being cut by the Giants in September. If Dallas took a step to add depth to the replacement level behind Dalton, Rush seems like the first option for the Cowboys. Clayton Thorson, who was on the Dallas training team in 2019, is on the Giants' training team and could be claimed. The cowboys would probably prefer either of these options to other practice groups like Davis Webb, Trevor Siemian, or Garrett Gilbert.
They signed Dalton for the scenario where Prescott got injured and I don't think they'd take a step straight away for a more significant quarterback. However, if Dalton is injured or has problems, keep in mind that Jerry Jones has been aggressive during the season in the past. The Cowboys sent Matt Cassel a fifth round pick and Matt Romel a seventh round pick when Tony Romo was injured during the 2015 season, then put Cassel in ahead of Brandon Weeden. (Kellen Moore, now the team's offensive coordinator, ended up finishing the year as a starter in Dallas.)
There are some quarterbacks that might be on the market, although some don't go well with the cowboys for one reason or another. Possible trade candidates:
Dwayne Haskins may be available after Washington makes its 2019 first round pick in favor of Kyle Allen. Haskins was absent from the stadium on Sunday as he dealt with a stomach virus, although his future with the team appears bleak. Haskins was reportedly a decision imposed on the previous football regime by owner Daniel Snyder, and new coach Ron Rivera apparently had enough leverage in the building to put him on the bench. The former Ohio state star has two years and $ 4.2 million in guaranteed cash left on his deal after this year, but while the money wouldn't be an issue for the Cowboys, Washington likely wouldn't with Haskins within the division act.
Nick Mullens was employed by the 49ers for C.J. Beathard was deployed after a disastrous run against the Eagles last Sunday. The 49ers defied trade talks for Mullens last off-season, but the 25-year-old is a restricted free agent after that season and an unrestricted free agent in the campaign that followed. With Jimmy Garoppolo struggling and the 49ers likely to have their sights set on the wild card after falling to 2-3, they may not be ready to send Mullens to a potential rival, especially given the 49ers dropping to Week 15 play against Dallas.
Nick Mullens was downgraded to third string by the 49ers after throwing two interceptions against the Eagles in Week 4. AP Photo / Jed Jacobsohn
Blake Bortles was signed by the Broncos and is one of four Denver quarterbacks on the active list. If Drew Lock can return from his shoulder injury next week and play against the Patriots, the Broncos would likely be ready to move on from either Bortles or Jeff Driskel. Dalton is probably better than Bortles or Driskel, but the cowboys may be able to pick up one of them for free in a week or two.
Tyrod Taylor lost his job to Los Angeles freshman Justin Herbert after suffering a lung injury from team doctors. Taylor is a safe pair of hands and only has a base salary of $ 1 million for 2019, but the Chargers may want him as a veteran backup to Herbert, and we are now three years from Taylor's last effective run as quarterback in Buffalo. It's unclear if he's a viable professional starter outside of offensive coordinator Greg Roman's plan.
Brian Hoyer is another quarterback who lost his job after a short run as a starter. The Patriots benched him against the Chiefs in the middle of the second half of his Week 4 start. New England spent the entire off-season talking about Jarrett Stidham and would likely move on to the sophomore quarterback if Cam Newton can't play. Hoyer wouldn't cost much, and he's been a competent backup over the years. It could be the most plausible trade addition for the Cowboys if Newton can return next week.
The most intriguing deal would be for Sam Darnold, who was the subject of preliminary trade talks this weekend. The Jets are 0-5 and well on their way to finish with the worst record in football, which would pave a way to top Clemson signaler Trevor Lawrence as the number 1 on the 2021 NFL draft. Darnold, who missed Sunday's defeat with a shoulder injury, flashed brief moments of potential during his time with the Jets, only to be disappointed by below-average decisions and one of the worst sidelights in the league.
The situation in Darnold is of great concern to the Jets due to a change in the league's option language in year five. After that year, they'll have to decide if they want to avail Darnold's option for the 2022 season, which would involve a substantial increase. For years past, the fifth year option was only guaranteed for signing injuries, so teams could move on if their fourth year player was not impressive. Under the new CBA, the option for the fifth year at the time of team pickup is fully guaranteed, meaning they'd be hooked for Darnold in 2022 if they might not even use Darnold as a starter.
However, if the Jets reject the option, 2021 will become a lame duck year for the previous third overall pick. If the Jets can get Lawrence it would be natural to turn down the option, and a move from Darnold would give the Jets a better chance of grabbing Lawrence. Schefter reported that general managers across the league did not see the Jets picking up a first-round selection for Darnold via the trade, but a second-round selection might be more realistic.
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The cowboys could surround Darnold with significant weapons. The deal with Darnold would put her in a fascinating position too. If Darnold stepped in and played well, the Cowboys could take his option and move on from Prescott, swapping Darnold or rejecting his option and making an equalization selection if Darnold moves elsewhere. If he has problems, the cowboys would make a selection in the second round minus a possible equalization selection in the middle of the round. I'm not sure the Jets are ready to deal with Darnold, and I don't think it makes sense for the Cowboys to chase him unless Dalton isn't as good as expected, but there is one tight bond in which a Darnold deal might make sense for Dallas.
What if the cowboys decide to move on?
There are a few scenarios where Prescott could become a free agent in the spring. If he's dealing with complications from the injury, the Cowboys may not be ready to use a second franchise day. If Dalton stands out, the Cowboys could try to sign Dalton on a Teddy Bridgewater-sized deal and use the savings to bolster their defenses. If they are trading for someone like Darnold and he breaks out, they might try to pick a cheaper option at the position. Neither of these scenarios is particularly likely, but is worth discussing in the conclusion.
If Prescott became a free agent as long as he could show the ankle was healed, he probably wouldn't have much trouble getting significant contact, albeit a little less than Deshaun Watson's extension with the Texan. It's not hard to imagine that Prescott would sign a three-year, $ 105 million deal in the open market that would give him the chance to make free choices again at age 30.
There could be up to eight teams in the market for a new quarterback right now, including the 49ers, Bears, Broncos, Colts, Jaguars, Jets, Patriots, and Washington. The Buccaneers, Saints, and Steelers would join in when their future Hall of Famers retires this off-season. Some of those needs are met by draft picks, and the Saints likely won't have enough room to chase Prescott, but there would be a significant market for the former round four pick.
Prescott had a record-breaking start to the season with three consecutive games that were at least 450 yards long. He started the week with an NFL best of 1,690 yards. Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports
Of these teams, the Colts come to mind as the most obvious contender. You will have the cap and a clear path to a starting job since Philip Rivers is on a one-year contract. They value accuracy and are an analytical organization, which suggests they may see more in Prescott than other teams. General Manager Chris Ballard also places great emphasis on character, and Prescott is considered a leader and a great presence in the locker room.
However, the most likely outcome is that not much is changing at all. I still think Prescott is slated for a second franchise day, and it's an outcome that both sides are likely to see as a fair outcome after a tough 2020 campaign. Prescott and the Cowboys were hoping 2020 will be a coronation year with the fifth year quarterback living up to high expectations and leading them to a deep playoff run.
Instead, Prescott's big year ended in mid-October in front of a quarter full AT&T stadium. The season isn't over for Dallas yet, but his dreams of making it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995 likely got off on a cart on Sunday night.