As much as the Dallas Cowboys tell you how much they love rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who is set to start in place of the injured Tony Romo in the Sept. 11 season opener against the New York Giants, Prescott wouldn't even be here if they had gotten their way on the first day of the NFL Draft.
After taking Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick, the Cowboys tried to move back in the first round to select Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who they identified as a potential franchise player of the future.
They made countless calls and offers in hopes of getting back into the first round before identifying the Seattle Seahawks with the 26th pick as the right spot to deal. The Cowboys offered their second- and third-round picks to Seattle. But they were outfoxed by the Denver Broncos, who had a late first rounder to pair with a third rounder.
Denver took Lynch and the Cowboys had to wait two more days until the fourth round to take Prescott as a possible developmental quarterback behind Romo and presumed backup Kellen Moore.
That was before Moore broke his leg roughly a week into training camp. That was before Prescott had the best preseason of any quarterback in the league, including rookies and veterans.
And that was before Romo suffered a broken a bone in his back against the Seattle last Thursday, knocking him out for at least the first six weeks of the season. Romo’s injury set the stage for Prescott to be just the fifth quarterback since 1970 drafted after the third round to start the season opener.
It all has the Cowboys thanking their lucky stars they missed out on Lynch. Vice president Stephen Jones said it's a trade they would not consider making today.
"Yeah, it would be hard," Jones said. "(Owner) Jerry (Jones) and I have been talking about it. I think we ended up in the best spot.”
Jones said they have learned so much about Prescott over that past four months off the field and on the field to overcome the disparity in draft grades. The Cowboys had Lynch firmly as a first-round pick and the third-best quarterback in the draft behind Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
"You spend that kind of time with somebody and every step of the way they do things the right way, then it changes,” Stephen Jones said. “There were questions marks on all of them in this year's class.
“And so now knowing what we know about Dak, I think he has rare leadership and people skills. We had obviously heard he was good. But you never know what that means talking to people. I mean you do the best you can, talking to coaches and people who have been around him. But we have gotten that on a lot of people, ‘he's impeccable. He is this. He is that.’ Then it turns around that he is not quite impeccable, good but not impeccable. But this guy has been special in terms of that. And then he's got an insatiable appetite to want to learn the game. He doesn't take one rep for granted. Then he relentless like that. And when we put him in games he has checked boxes. It hasn't been too big for him. The players respond to him.”
Prescott August as the third quarterback and a developmental guy. He wouldn't have gotten this opportunity if Moore doesn't get hurt.
And then the Cowboys unsuccessfully tried to sign Nick Foles in free agency _ a move that would have also taken snaps away from Prescott.
But this is more about Prescott being ready and making the most of a rare opportunity than just dumb luck on the part of the Cowboys.
"Obviously, Kellen was going to be the No. 2. We were going to work Dak a lot. But now he is getting it all. On top of the fact that Tony was hurt, he ended up getting some rare opportunities. He is getting more opportunities than Goff and Wentz and Paxton. That's invaluable,” Stephen Jones said. “Now you’ve got to go perform when you get them. It's preseason. We are not naive. We know things change a lot. But that Seattle game wasn't just playing against a base defense. It was playing on the road. It was playing against their first unit.
“Did you see everything Seattle is going to do? Of course not. It's impressive he came in there. He didn't know he was going to be playing in that game early. But he had prepared himself. Has he answered all the questions? Of course not. It's too early. So far, when given the opportunities, he's been able to check boxes.”