Driv­ing Dal­las:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - Inside - Lorenzo Reyes Con­tribut­ing: Lind­say H. Jones

Off­sea­son changes mean the Cow­boys need Dak Prescott. What’s his fu­ture in Dal­las?

With his third sea­son as the start­ing quar­ter­back of the Dal­las Cow­boys loom­ing, Dak Prescott faces his most cru­cial cam­paign yet.

The Cow­boys are aim­ing for a post­sea­son re­turn, but Prescott’s 2018 per­for­mance will also have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on ne­go­ti­a­tions with the or­ga­ni­za­tion for a con­tract ex­ten­sion. Prescott stressed he hasn’t thought specif­i­cally about what the struc­ture of a deal might be but said he would also take the team’s needs into con­sid­er­a­tion.

“That’s all good money, and that’s all big money, hon­estly,” Prescott told USA TO­DAY last week in a phone con­ver­sa­tion. “I haven’t de­cided, or haven’t even talked about whether it’s a fully guar­an­teed deal, all up front, or what­ever, short-term deal or make it long term. I’ve got to take care of my­self and take care of my fam­ily.

“But at the same time, I want to do what’s best to get good players around me and keep good players around me, be­cause that’s how you win.

“So if it’s short term to al­low other players to get paid, or long term be­cause I want to con­tinue to stay a Cow­boy and that helps the or­ga­ni­za­tion, we’ll get there when that time comes.”

Matt Ryan signed an ex­ten­sion with the At­lanta Fal­cons dur­ing this off­sea­son, giv­ing him $30 mil­lion a sea­son and $100 mil­lion guar­an­teed, both of which set NFL records. Ear­lier, Kirk Cousins signed a three­year, fully guar­an­teed deal worth $84 mil­lion with the Min­nesota Vik­ings.

And yet Prescott, a fourthround pick in 2016, re­mains one of the best bar­gains in the NFL, set to earn $630,000 this year in base salary.

While the Cow­boys still have Prescott’s rights for 2019 and could ten­der the fran­chise tag on him, it’s com­mon for teams to look to lock up as­cend­ing players, espe­cially quar­ter­backs, to long-term deals prior to en­ter­ing the last year of the con­tract.

“Per­son­ally, it’s about win­ning, man,” Prescott said. “When it comes to the con­tract, we know this is a year where it’s go­ing to hap­pen in some form or fash­ion. For me it’s just about fo­cus­ing on be­ing the best I can.

“Be­ing the best quar­ter­back I can to make sure we win a lot of games so that I can show this or­ga­ni­za­tion what I can do and what I can do for many years to come. I know if I do that and win a bunch of games, go out there and win a Su­per Bowl, that money will take care of it­self.

“Yeah, it’s a big year, but it’s a big year be­cause it’s Year 3. It’s a huge year be­cause it’s the next year.”

Dur­ing spring work­outs, there were signs that Prescott is grow­ing more com­fort­able in his role as the team’s fran­chise quar­ter­back. It wasn’t that Prescott wasn’t vo­cal be­fore, but now he has no choice but to speak up given the void left by vet­eran tight end Ja­son Wit­ten’s re­tire­ment and re­ceiver Dez Bryant’s re­lease.

“You can see him think­ing at a dif­fer­ent level and just be­ing more com­fort­able in our of­fense, and then chal­leng­ing every­one else to play at that level with him,” cen­ter Travis Fred­er­ick said. “Peo­ple grav­i­tate to him nat­u­rally. Peo­ple want to fol­low him.

“Guys are look­ing to him for that, and he’s ac­cept­ing of that, and he knows his re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Cow­boys ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Stephen Jones said in May at the team’s golf out­ing that Dal­las has bud­geted to pay Prescott “as he de­serves” and added that he hopes the fi­nal con­tract num­bers are “up there,” based on the quar­ter­back’s play.

Prescott spoke to USA TO­DAY on be­half of the Ready. Raise. Rise. cam­paign, which is hold­ing the Pic Your Power chal­lenge.

If 100 peo­ple sub­mit pho­tos of them­selves hold­ing up a sign with the hash­tag #ReadyRaise Rise at ReadyRaiseRise.com, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb will pledge $250,000 to 35 ad­vo­cacy groups that sup­port peo­ple af­fected by cancer.

Prescott, whose mother, Peggy, died af­ter fight­ing colon cancer, has sup­ported var­i­ous causes to pro­mote ed­u­ca­tion and re­search to fight the dis­ease.

“I’m just al­low­ing her to be my story,” Prescott said. “That’s what I’m do­ing and that’s why I’m here. It puts it in per­spec­tive what she went through and the grit and the self­less­ness type of fighter she was.

“That’s why it’s im­por­tant for me to reach out and to be a part of the Ready. Raise. Rise. cam­paign so we can ed­u­cate and help bring on­col­ogy re­search to peo­ple who need it.”

BILL STREICHER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott has av­er­aged 3,495.5 yards pass­ing and 22.5 TD passes dur­ing his first two NFL sea­sons. He also has rushed for six TDs both years.

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