Dallas Cowboys veterans report to training camp in Oxnard, Calif., today, and no question the biggest story line of camp will be how Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott looks in his return from serious ankle injuries that cut his promising 2020 season short. William Hill Sportsbook lists Prescott as the +180 clear-cut favorite to win 2021 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He has Over/Under season totals of 4,795.5 passing yards and 32 passing TDs.
The Cowboys are holding camp in California for the first time since 2019 – that's part of Jerry Jones' marketing genius to ensure Dallas remains America's Team. Steelers veterans also report Wednesday as Dallas and Pittsburgh are allowed to report earlier than all clubs because they will be playing each other in the Aug. 5 Hall of Fame Game. Thursday will be the Cowboys' first practice.
Prescott gruesomely broke and dislocated his ankle in Week 5 last year against the New York Giants. While Dallas won that game to improve to 2-3, the offense essentially cratered the rest of the way. Prescott had been off to a career-best start and was on pace to break the NFL single-season passing yardage record of 5,477 set by Peyton Manning in 2013. Prescott finished with 1,856 yards passing with nine TDs and four picks in about 4.5 games.
To lead the NFL in passing yards this year, Prescott is a +600 second-favorite behind Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes (+400). No Cowboys QB has led the NFL in passing yards, which seems shocking. Just one has won NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Defensive end Greg Ellis in 2007. Quarterbacks have won Comeback Player of the Year the past three seasons.
Of course, Prescott signed a $160 million, four-year extension this offseason to end any talk that the 2021 season would be his last in Dallas. Prescott's signing bonus was $66 million, the highest in NFL history, with a record $75 million due in Year 1. That deal actually cut his 2021 salary-cap number from $37.7 million on the franchise tag to $22.5 million.
Prescott appears to have an absolutely loaded offense around him, with ESPN's Bill Barnwell recently ranking it the No. 2 group in the league without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme behind Tampa Bay's. Dallas has one of the best running backs in the league in Ezekiel Elliott – although posted career lows in most categories last year – and maybe the NFL's best trio of wideouts in Amari Cooper (he won't be 100 percent for the start of camp after undergoing foot/ankle surgery in January), CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.
If Prescott goes down injured again, the Cowboys are probably toast regardless but it's surprising they didn't pursue a veteran backup QB after losing Andy Dalton in free agency. The leader in the clubhouse to be No. 2 appears to be 30-year-old journeyman Garrett Gilbert, he of 44 career regular-season passing attempts. His lone career start was Week 9 last year vs. Pittsburgh, which the Cowboys lost 24-19. Perhaps Gilbert starts the Hall of Fame Game against the Steelers, too.
Cowboys fans won't miss much of their training camp as they will be featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks," which begins Aug. 10. Dallas first appeared on "Hard Knocks," in 2002 and finished 5-11 that season. Their second appearance came in 2008 and they missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. To make the playoffs this year, the team is -170 with no at +145.
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