Five thoughts on the Cowboys, who are 8-1 after beating Pittsburgh:
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was being magnanimous Tuesday when he talked glowingly on the radio about former starting quarterback Tony Romo’s brilliant mind and how he would make a great offensive coordinator one day. It was Jones’ way of trying to trumpet how Romo is going to help rookie quarterback Dak Prescott while he sits behind the new starter. But the real question is what it all means for Romo and the Cowboys in the future. It’s not about seeing Romo looking up offensive coordinator gigs in the off-season. One thing seems certain: Romo won’t be with the Cowboys in 2017. No matter how much Jones is beholden to Romo for what he has meant to the franchise over the past 10 years, the business of football can’t be ignored. Romo will be 37 April. He has a base salary of $14 million in 2017 and will count $24.7 million against the salary cap. There is no way Jones pays that much for a backup quarterback next season. If he is released or traded, the Cowboys would save $5.1 million against the cap, though he would count $19.1 million in dead money. What is uncertain is what Romo wants to do. Before the season, his cousin Andy Alberth was quoted in an article on Bleacher Report that Romo would retire before playing anywhere else. That was before the season. Don’t know if he would make that same statement now. As hard as Romo worked to return from last season’s broken clavicle and from the fractured bone in his back, you think he would just walk away? Not if a chance at that elusive Super Bowl presents itself with another team. Romo would say no to overtures from the Cleveland Browns of the world. He has no interest in a rebuilding project. His body isn’t built for that either. But let him get a call from the possibly quarterback-starved Denver Broncos, who know a thing or two about transitioning an old, injured quarterback into a championship environment. Peyton Manning come to mind? That would really put an ironic bow on Romo’s career. He chose the Cowboys over the Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois because he felt he had a better chance of making the team in Dallas, even though Denver offered more money at the time. Now he could find himself in the position of ending his career in Denver because the Broncos gave him the best chance of making a Super Bowl run as the starting quarterback.
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If you are waiting for Dak Prescott to hit the proverbial rookie wall and finally come down to earth, I would suggest you not hold your breath. That is, if you like to keep on living. The notion that Prescott is going to finally stop doing Prescott things is ludicrous. This is not some fairy tale. He didn’t wish upon a star. No fairy Godmother turned his pumpkin into a carriage. Midnight is not upon us. Why? Because what Prescott has done to be so successful in what has been a sensational start to his rookie season is play fundamentally sound football. He is not wowing you with athleticism, although he is a good athlete. He is not running around in the pocket, throwing up Hail Marys that are miraculously finding their way into the hands of receivers. He is making good decisions. He is playing mistake free. He is poised. He is composed. He is who he is and who he has been. Why would that change? Certainly, the people around him aren’t going to change. Sure, he will have his bad games and make his share of mistakes as all quarterbacks do, even as veterans Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have done this season. But it won’t be about hitting a rookie wall and coming down to earth.
When Dez Bryant talked last week about him not supposed to be here according to critics, it was a nod to those who have questioned his off-the-field issues and his background dating to the NFL Draft. Not only was everything he did scrutinized, but so were his parents and his non-traditional upbringing in Lufkin. His mom had him young. She spent time in prison. He lived with his dad, though they had a rocky relationship at times. He lived with other relatives. To that end, when news broke about Bryant’s father passing away before Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, there were media members and media outlets who questioned if Bryant was close to his father and if the news would really have any impact on him. That whole line of thinking and conjecture was out of bounds. No one has any right to question your love for a parent no matter what you perceive their relationship to be. And certainly, no one has the right to project your feelings following the death of a parent, just because they didn’t grow up as you did. And if you didn’t know Bryant was deeply impacted by the passing of his father, you know after his emotionally draining but spectacular performance in the Cowboys 35-30 victory. Bryant had six catches for 116 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown that left him with tears streaming down his face as he came back to the sideline. “Dez was just amazing,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I can’t imagine the emotions that you go through when you lose a loved one like your dad, and then the emotions you go through when you’re preparing to play in a big game like that and how those come together.”
Amid the euphoria of the thrilling comeback victory was the fact that defensive end Benson Mayowa was inactive for the game. Mayowa signed a three-year, $8.25 million deal to come over from the Oakland Raiders as a restricted free agent in hopes of being an answer to the team’s pass rush woes. He has two sacks and eight tackles this season. The sacks match his previous two seasons in Oakland combined. But the lack of consistent production has been a disappointment to a team still badly in need of pass rush help. The Cowboys had hoped he could open the season at right end while Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence were on NFL suspension. But he was supplanted in that role by Jack Crawford. Mayowa’s snaps diminished further when Lawrence returned from suspension and he was made inactive against the Steelers in favor of former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Ryan Davis, who the Cowboys signed off the streets last month. “We have nine guys and we wanted to have the eight most productive guys up there,” coach Jason Garrett said of the defensive line rotation. “We’re trying to create competitive situations in practice and competitive situations in the game to earn the right to be one of those eight guys in the game. He’s working hard, but we want to see more production. He’s getting better and understanding the techniques we want him to play and at different times he’s done a good job of being productive, but we want him to continue showing up.”
Before the season, safety J.J. Wilcox was pegged as a former starter who might not make the final roster. He had lost his starting job at free safety to Byron Jones in 2015. The signing of Jeff Heath to a contract extension and the drafting of rookie Kavon Frazier seemingly made Wilcox the odd man out – especially with his history of missed tackles, bad angles and poor coverage. What people didn’t count on was Wilcox becoming the enforcer in the secondary. Wilcox made the team because has worked hard to improve his deficiencies. People forget he only played safety for one year in college before being drafted by the Cowboys. He was and is still a work in progress as far as reps and seeing things on defense. Wilcox could always hit. He was doing that before strong safety Barry Church was sidelined for up to six weeks with a fractured arm. He was all over the field against the Steelers, laying some thunderous blows on running back Le’Veon Bell that set the tone for a physical run defense that is the only team in the league to not allow a 100-yard rusher all season. “Two or three really big hits on the running back, impactful hits,” Garrett said. “It’s one thing to be making those hits. But sometimes guys who are making those big hits are having a lot of big misses. I think he’s doing a better job minimizing his missed tackles and making a lot of those hits. I think it’s a function of him just playing more. He’s more confident.”