Dak Prescott is the man. The Cowboys rookie quarterback has his team sitting at 11-1, one win over the Giants away from an NFC East title, and no more than three wins away from securing the NFC's top playoff seed. He's affable, talented and photogenic, the perfect fit to be the face of the NFL's premiere franchise. He's protected the football, throwing just two interceptions all year and been productive all over the field, leading to 19 touchdown passes. If he throws eight more TDs, he'll be the most prolific rookie in NFL history.
Thanks to his superior play and supporting cast, Prescott has a chance to go where no NFL rookie quarterback has gone before and win Super Bowl LI in Houston this February. If he does so, he'll be a Cowboys legend, in line to enshrine himself with the likes of Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith among the Cowboys' biggest heroes.
Despite all that, however, Prescott is not above suffering from multiple indignities during this, his first NFL season. Let's take a look at the reasons it isn't always great being Dak.
1. He isn't making as much money as he deserves. — Thanks to his lowly draft position, Prescott is woefully underpaid. Prescott's base salary for the 2016 season is $450,000, the exact same as each of the players selected with Prescott between the 131st and 139th picks in April's draft. His signing bonus, just like each of his compatriots at the bottom of the fourth round was just $383,393.
While Prescott's salary might sound like a lot of money, it is comically below market value for any NFL starting quarterback, much less one playing as well as Prescott. Brock Osweiler, the starting QB for the Houston Texans, has thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) and is having a generally terrible 2016. Despite his poor play, however, he is guaranteed $37 million in salaries and bonuses this season and the next.
No matter how well he plays, Prescott won't get much of a raise until he's set to reach free agency after the 2019 season. It's a boon for the Cowboys, who can allocate money that would've been otherwise tied up at quarterback to other areas of need — assuming they can dump Tony Romo's contract — but unfair to Prescott. If he sustains a long career, he'll get paid, but until then, Prescott will be leaning on endorsement cash.
2. He can't get no respect. — One of the primary themes that's popped up on Twitter and elsewhere in the sports universe during Prescott's ascent is that his supporting cast makes him some kind of fraud. Prescott, the argument goes, is just taking what's given to him thanks to the NFL's best offensive line and a core group of playmakers that includes running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. Anybody, the haters argue, could step in and play well at quarterback for the Cowboys.
This argument ignores the fact that the Cowboys' primary quarterbacks in 2015, Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassell, were abysmal with nearly the same personnel. In fact, the 2016 Cowboys offense is performing even better than the 2014 offense that had Tony Romo and carried the Cowboys to within an overturned Dez Bryant catch in Green Bay of the NFC Championship game.
Prescott is special. He's makes terrific decisions — as evidenced by his lack of interceptions — can pick up key first downs with his feet — as he did converting a 3rd-and-13 on the Cowboys first touchdown drive against the Vikings Thursday night — and seems to be a decent human being. (Seriously, check out this video of Prescott's reaction to missing a sideline trash can with a Gatorade cup.)
Despite all of that, NFL executives still say they'd take Carson Wentz, whom the Eagles drafter with the second pick of the 2016 draft, over Prescott. The Eagles are 5-6 overall, 1-5 on the road and are not going to make the playoffs. Unless the execs who'd take Wentz have some inside information, it's completely absurd.
3. He's had to deal with idiots who think he has character issues. — Part of the reason Prescott fell so far in the draft is the narrative that sprung up around a couple of incidents that happened during his time at Mississippi State. First, two men attacked Prescott at a Waka Flocka Flame concert Prescott attended while on spring break in Florida in 2015. The incident wasn't really a fight. It was two guys taking a shot at attacking a celebrity, but it's been spun into a black mark on Prescott's character. Colin Cowherd, a TV yakker for Fox Sports, called it a fight at a "frat party" earlier this year while suggesting that Prescott was somehow immature.
This year, just before the NFL combine, police stopped Prescott on suspicion of DUI. A jury acquitted Prescott in July due to inconclusive breathalyzer results, but people like Cowherd are still referring to Prescott as having "got[ten] a DUI."
4. He was drafted the same year as Zeke. — Despite playing like one of the three or four best quarterbacks in football and an MVP candidate, it is unlikely that Prescott will even win rookie of the year, much less the NFL's highest individual honor. Ezekiel Elliott, drafted 131 picks ahead of Prescott by the Cowboys, is so visually entertaining and productive that he's already been deemed the odds on favorite to win the rookie award. Thanks to Prescott and Elliott sharing the same sideline, neither is likely to win the MVP, as they'll be taking votes away from one another during the balloting process.
5. The weight of expectations lies heavily on him. — Prescott has been so good that he's numbed both fans and the media to his brilliance. You see it any time Prescott has a bad half, or a bad quarter, or a bad drive, when network TV cameras begin nervously panning to Tony Romo, wondering if the gunslinger will get one last shot. Or on Twitter when Prescott has the gall to so much as fall behind the Eagles before leading a fourth quarter comeback:
If Prescott doesn't win the Super Bowl, there will be many who view this season, somehow, as a failure. That shows just how good he's been, but it's also a big burden to shoulder.