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How Jerry Jones’ surprise trade for Trey Lance will impact Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys

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Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jones likes taking risks. It’s how he made tens of millions in the oil and gas business before he bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

He’s been a risk-taker in the NFL whether it was hiring Jimmy Johnson, signing Terrell Owens or fighting with the NFL over marketing rights.

The open risk he’s never wanted to take is at quarterback — and that’s part of the reason the Cowboys traded a fourth-round pick for Trey Lance, the third player taken in the 2021 draft.

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The Cowboys view him as a developmental player who could be a nice backup at worst and a future starter at best. Dallas had a second-round draft grade on him.

“He gives us an opportunity to do what we always like to be doing,” Jerry Jones told reporters. “It would be ideal with Dak (Prescott) to have a young, prospective, developing quarterback who could just be in the room and be on the team with him.”

Lance started the first two games of last season before breaking his ankle and missing the last 15 games.

“It’s been a tough road for him, because the times he has got an opportunity, he ended up getting hurt and missing that window,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters.

Dallas Cowboys’ plan for Trey Lance

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Lance will be third on the depth chart behind Prescott and Cooper Rush, who went 4-1 as a starter last season. 

“Candidly, I don’t want to plan on, count on, or wish for help from him this year,” Jones told reporters.

Understand, the Cowboys have not taken a quarterback in the first round since selecting Troy Aikman in 1989. Aikman led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

When he retired, the Cowboys went through eight starters ranging from failed baseball players such as Drew Henson and Chad Hutchison to busts like Ryan Leaf, the second player taken in the 1998 draft, to older veterans such Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe before finding undrafted free agent Tony Romo, who started his first game in 2006.

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, has started since 2016.

Only the New Orleans Saints, who took Archie Manning in 1971, have gone longer than Dallas in selecting a quarterback in the first round. Seattle hasn’t taken a quarterback in the first round since Rick Mirer in 1993.

Dallas, New Orleans and Seattle are outliers. 

In the last five years, 16 teams have taken quarterbacks in the first round. In the last 10 years, 25 teams have taken quarterbacks in the first round.

Jones doesn’t like taking quarterbacks in the first round because it requires a lot of money and there’s no guarantee of success — and it doesn’t matter if you draft them first overall.

JaMarcus Russell (2007), Jameis Winston (2015),  Baker Mayfield (2018) and Kyler Murray (2020) were all taken No.1 overall. Russell and Winston are out of the league, and Mayfield is with his fourth team in three seasons. Murray, recovering from a torn ACL, hasn’t been special.

San Francisco traded three first-round picks and a third-rounder to Miami  for the rights to draft Lance. 

They knew he was a project, when they drafted him. He played only one full season of college football at North Dakota State. He passed for 2,789 yards with 28 touchdowns and no interceptions in 2019.

Covid limited him to one game and 15 passes in 2020, so he entered the NFL having played 19 games and thrown 218 passes. 

Trevor Lawrence, the first pick in 2021, played 40 games and threw 1,138 passes at Clemson. Zach Wilson, the second pick, played 30 games and threw 837 passes. 

Justin Fields, the 11th pick, played 34 games and threw 618 passes at Georgia and Ohio State, while Mac Jones, the 15th pick, played 31 games and threw 556 passes.

Injuries and bad luck limited Lance to four starts in two years with San Francisco. The emergence of 7th-round pick Brock Purdy, who took San Francisco to the NFC Championship game, and the acquisition of Sam Darnold made Lance expendable. 

Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft, is playing for this third team since 2020.

Trey Lance and Dak Prescott’s contract situation

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Prescott is in the third year of a four-year deal, which contains clauses that prevent the Cowboys from trading him or putting the franchise tag on him. That means Prescott has all the leverage. He’s scheduled to count $59 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap next year, which means the Cowboys will probably attempt to get a deal done in the offseason.

Jones said he didn’t confer with Prescott or McCarthy before making the deal. 

“That didn’t cross my mind. Period. I know that Dak wants to do anything we can improve this team. We view it as an opportunity that could pay dividends this year and will pay dividends (long term).”

Whether they keep Lance or trade him.

“I’m not surprised by anything anymore,” Prescott said after the game. “I’ve been in this league eight years, been on this team, it’s hard to say I was surprised to be honest with you.

“I understand that it’s business and I understand that they’re probably on a timeline, and they need to get something done. Like [Jones] said, he felt like it strengthens this team. Yeah, as I said, ready to welcome [Lance].”

Jean-Jacques Taylor is an NFL Insider for Sportsnaut and the author of the upcoming book “Coach Prime“, with Deion Sanders. Follow him on Twitter.

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