Why Dak Prescott – not Ezekiel Elliott – is the future of the Dallas Cowboys

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

OXNARD, Calif. — The golf cart was a business meeting on wheels, and Dak Prescott was breezing around corners of the Dallas Cowboys training camp complex with it. In his left hand, the iPhone of the budding quarterback was broadcasting a FaceTime conversation.

“You can’t tell that guy anything,” the phone blared, as Prescott’s friend cracked jokes about one of the quarterback’s business partners. “He’s got the biggest mouth ever. You should just call him ‘The Mouth’. If you want everyone in the world to know something, tell ‘The Mouth’ and then he’ll tell the whole world.”

Prescott grinned and squeezed the steering wheel with his right hand. Making a sharp left turn, he hit the brakes and pointed the camera on his phone toward Cowboys public relations czar Rich Dalrymple.

“Rich, come here,” Prescott said. “Talk to him.”

This was Prescott now in all his glory – driving, listening, directing, summoning. Twelve months ago, he was fighting for his position as the Cowboys’ third-string quarterback. Now he’s behind the wheel of the entire franchise, navigating his bursting fame and opportunity – all while trying to get the Dallas Cowboys around the corners.

“He’s made a leap forward in so many ways – you can see it in every part of him,” said trainer Tom Shaw, who has worked with Prescott the last two offseasons and has arguably spent more time with him than anyone outside the Cowboys franchise. “There’s always a sophomore slump when you’re not prepared. Well, I think he has over-prepared for this next step.”

We’ll quickly determine the veracity of that statement. But two things are clear right now about Dak Prescott 2.0: A great deal of work has gone into his continued development; and there is plenty of growing left to do … some of which might be uncomfortable, particularly where it concerns his tight friendship with running back Ezekiel Elliott.

The reality is this franchise is being geared to belong to Dak. If everything goes as planned, he’ll be behind the wheel for the next decade and beyond – mirroring other classic franchise quarterbacks who have come to define their eras. Names like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and others.

Dak Prescott is the central figure in the Dallas Cowboys’ plan for the future. (AP)

This is the plan in place for Prescott. It’s why he spent this offseason with Cowboys trainer Mike Woicik, remaking his physique and trimming body fat. On top of it all, working a core strength regimen that continues to put added zip on his ball. So much so that he threw one pass in front of Shaw this offseason that looked like something from John Elway. A cannon-shot with little air under it, leaving Shaw’s chin wagging once he measured the field and realized Prescott was 55 yards away when he let the ball go.

“Will he try to fire the ball down the field this year? Yeah, I think he will,” Shaw said.

Just from a basic mechanics standpoint, Prescott has checked off all the boxes the Cowboys have been seeking from him. He spent the majority of his offseason at the facility – not just in OTAs, but also showing up for added weight-training sessions that are rarely attended by star quarterbacks. He worked in the classroom endlessly, commiserated with Elliott, wideout Dez Bryant and other offensive players constantly, and worked in time with Shaw whenever he could.

In the process, the Dallas playbook has opened up once again – expanding the wrinkles back into Tony Romo levels after being pared back so Prescott could handle it as a rookie. In effect, the crash course is over. Now Prescott is advancing into the areas that not only suit him best, but that he can shape to his own liking. In short, he’s earning some freedom.

All of this is on schedule to creating what owner Jerry Jones wants: A team that is gradually moving Prescott into the command role that franchise quarterbacks must assume to become the pace-setters of their team. Does Dallas have other leaders? Yes. An abundance. But make no mistake, the goal is to make Prescott the leader amongst other leaders.

And this is where shaping the Cowboys future gets really interesting. One of Prescott’s best friends is Elliott, who was arguably the team’s MVP as a rookie but has also become one of the most high-maintenance players off the field. The relationship between Prescott and Elliott is undeniable. But it’s also one that people around Prescott are working to influence. Not to end, not to curb, but most definitely to make sure Dak knows what’s at stake.

This came into full focus earlier this month when Elliott was involved in an incident at Clutch Bar in Dallas, where he allegedly punched a man in the face. That incident raised the eyebrows of some close to Prescott. Why? Because Prescott has been to the same bar with Elliott.

“Dak likes Zeke,” one source close to Prescott said. “Dak hangs out with him. They go out and they go to that club that Elliott [allegedly] got into the fight in. They go upstairs in the VIP area. It’s like, ‘OK Dak, that’s gotta stop now.’ ”

In fairness to Prescott, it’s no crime to go out and enjoy one’s self. And he’s done that without any apparent issues since being drafted by the Cowboys. But it’s also clear that some around Prescott are urging him to recognize that he’s got a whole different level of responsibility as a quarterback. That is quickly becoming part of the “Prescott Plan” – growth beyond the field that often places a special level of pressure on quarterbacks.

And it’s not just recognized inside the Cowboys franchise, either.

“Some guys – they get into trouble and do stuff,” Shaw said when asked about Prescott’s added notoriety off the field. “Dak’s gotta stay away from all of that stuff. Trouble is going to find you. Mike Ditka used to say that. It doesn’t matter where you go, trouble is going to find you. So you’ve got to be away from everything that could possibly get you in trouble. Dak knows that.

“I said to him: ‘When is the [last] time that you’ve ever heard about Tom Brady [in clubs off the field]? Tom stays out of all that stuff. I know you want to go out and you’re only 23 years old and you want to have fun. But eventually, you’re the man that all these coaches are going to end up getting fired if you’re not in there. You do know that, right? Imagine there are 30 coaches and staff that all have families. It’s more than you. It definitely is.’ ”

Shaw isn’t alone. Another of Prescott’s business associates echoed the sentiments a little more bluntly.

“Dak’s a great kid and someday soon, he’s going to be the least expendable part of that team,” the associate said. “I don’t think he’ll ever be above other guys in the locker room – he’s just not built to be like that. I can’t see him acting out the ‘celebrity quarterback’ life. But he’s going to see there is a way to be apart from some of the foolish [stuff] that some guys get into and yet still maintain those friendships and relationships. I guarantee you that he’s going to learn it as he becomes the guy everyone looks to. And I also guarantee people will be in his ear about it, whether it’s the Cowboys or other people around him.”

With that ahead, the balancing act inside the Prescott Plan rolls along. He’s at the wheel, weighing his priorities and taking the corners. What happens next will shape the future of the franchise, not to mention how quickly Prescott settles into the center of it.

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