Prescott could take the next step in his development with a stronger supporting cast around him.
Dak Prescott knows as well as anyone.
He needs to be better.
Not one to lack accountability, the Cowboys quarterback recognizes the level at which he played last season. It was not good enough. Quietly, while not advertising this fact, the Cowboys agree. They want and need more from Prescott in 2023.
To help achieve that, he also needs more from them.
Coaching changes are underway in Dallas. Once complete, Prescott is expected to have a new position coach and offensive coordinator to go with coach Mike McCarthy as his new play caller. These staff and scheme adjustments, while significant, alone likely won’t be enough to create the sort of offensive improvement the Cowboys desire.
Prescott must take the next step in his development. and the franchise must do a better job surrounding him with talent. Team owner Jerry Jones all but acknowledged the latter while at the Senior Bowl this week.
First, Prescott threw a career-high 15 interceptions in 12 regular-season games.
While several were because of a receiver drop, poorly run route or otherwise, too many were Prescott’s fault. The two he tossed in a Jan. 22 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers fell under that category, tied to some combination of his footwork, timing and in-play processing. A third interception being returned for a touchdown would have been the lasting image had 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw not dropped a pick late in the fourth quarter.
Last March, when the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to Cleveland and saw Cedrick Wilson sign in Miami, they knew they’d be younger and less talented at receiver than accustomed.
They hoped the 29-year-old Prescott could manage the challenge and do what, in their view, a quarterback being paid $40 million per year ought to do: elevate those around him and find a way. He did not. They hoped, another year removed from his 2020 ankle surgery, he would play the best football of his career, doing enough to complement a strong defense and lead the team in the postseason. After Prescott impressed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ultimately, he did not.
Parting ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier reflects a collective shortcoming in which Prescott had a hand.
But the problem was bigger than Prescott and bigger than the coaches.
The Cowboys did not anticipate the scale to which Prescott’s receiving corps had declined. With an injured James Washington and raw Jalen Tolbert combining all season to catch two passes for 12 yards, with wide receiver Michael Gallup not operating at full capacity following an ACL tear, the Cowboys asked more from Prescott than envisioned.
Noah Brown, a No. 4 or 5 wide receiver, unsuccessfully operated as a No. 2 at times behind CeeDee Lamb. Late-season signing T.Y. Hilton gave a lift that was limited to spurts. A borderline nonexistent run game down the stretch only exacerbated the situation.
It would be fair for the Cowboys to conclude they learned something about Prescott last season.
They cannot ask him to be a miracle worker, leading a depleted offense against a Super Bowl-level defense. They must supply him a better supporting cast than in 2022. A more reliable run game and No. 2 wide receiver would go a long way.
“We probably had too much reliance on what Tolbert could do because we were high on him coming out and thought he could immediately be a factor,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said to reporters Wednesday in Mobile, Ala. “We thought that possibly we could have better results relative to Gallup as far as his rehab and where he is, so I can say that. …We need Tolbert to come on as a young player. We need to keep looking [at receiver].
“Lamb did everything and more that we hoped he would do. When they’re really covering him, we need some guys who have a better chance to get open, and we probably can do some things in the passing game to help Gallup get more involved.”
McCarthy is expected to finish addressing his coaching staff in February.
Arguably more is riding on Prescott’s strides and the roster decisions made in the months that follow.