And that comfort has grown with each season.
In 2016, Prescott was viewed as a caretaker of the Cowboys’ quarterback spot — a fourth-round pick keeping the seat warm — as Tony Romo recovered from a preseason back injury.
In 2017, Prescott was the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year after directing Dallas to a 13-3 mark, trying to prove he was not just a product of the Cowboys’ talented running game led by a Pro Bowl-heavy offensive line and Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott.
In 2018, Prescott started the season working without wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten or ailing Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick. The offense struggled until the acquisition of wide receiver Amari Cooper in a trade from the Oakland Raiders.
“It’s not even comparable to the last three years,” Prescott said. “Just from a knowledge standpoint, how comfortable I am in my game … to compare my confidence right now to any of the three years isn’t fair.”
Not even the lingering possibility of a life-altering contract that could eclipse $100 million in guarantees can distract Prescott from what he wants most: to deliver the franchise’s first Super Bowl since 1995.
“You’re going to have a lot of ups and downs in this game, and you’ve just got to keep fighting through it,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Prescott. “The ups and downs within a series, within a game, from week to week, over the course of the season, and that’s a really important thing — you have to be able to stay focused on the task at hand and let whatever good or bad happened, let that go, learn from it and keep moving forward.
“That’s something we preach to our team, but that’s something that I believe if we went and watched him play Pop Warner when he was in sixth grade, he probably had that.”
That’s why Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones does not worry about the lack of a contract — at least at the moment — affecting Prescott.
“I’m particularly excited that Dak’s got wins under his belt and the experience he’s got,” Jones said. “So I feel better than I ever have about where we are at quarterback since Dak’s been quarterback.”
Prescott traces the roots of his on-field comfort back to the middle of last season. It coincided with Cooper’s arrival, but it was not solely because of the receiver. Prescott had started 39 regular-season games before Cooper arrived.
“It’s like you step to the line without any hesitation and you see exactly what they’re doing, whether they’re trying to disguise it, whether they’re not,” Prescott said. “I honestly just think it was experience. I mean, I think it was just the time of getting out there and seeing it. You can watch a bunch of film and hopefully get a key or a pointer that is going to help you, but once you go out there it’s not real and it’s not as comfortable as you want it to be until you’re seeing it the way I was at the latter part of the year — and it’s carried over.”
In Games 7 through 16 last season, Prescott threw 14 of his 22 touchdown passes and completed 71.2% of his passes. After throwing for more than 200 yards in three of the first seven games, he threw for more than 200 yards in eight of the final nine games.
This season, he has a new offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore, as well as a former teammate and a new quarterbacks coach in Jon Kitna. Prescott had input in the offense his first three seasons, but that will grow because of his experience.
Kitna believes Prescott’s strength is not overcomplicating things.
“Dak, what makes him great is he just plays the offense,” Kitna said. “It’s one of the things that’s really good about him. He just plays what the offense calls for. I don’t know that there’s anything I’d take from that that says something about him. It’s just who he is. I think that’s helpful, and the good thing is we have guys to throw it to.”
While limited for a good portion of the preseason with a heel injury, Cooper provides Prescott with a No. 1 option. Michael Gallup enters his second season far more advanced than he was as a rookie and can make plays down the field. Randall Cobb will replace Cole Beasley in the slot. And Witten has returned to be something of a security blanket.
Witten has been impressed with Prescott since the quarterback jumped in for Romo in a 2016 preseason game at the Seattle Seahawks and completed a third-down pass to Beasley. Now back with the Cowboys, Witten is even more impressed.
“He’s gone to another level with his game,” Witten said. “As a leader, he’s the hardest-working guy on the team, comes early and stays late. He’s got personal relationships with everybody on the team. The line of scrimmage, communication, understanding what the defense is trying to do, what our plan is, everything is just at a higher, higher level.
“Amidst all the contract stuff, the guy comes to work ready. He’s ready every single day. He is the leader of this football team. Ask any guy in the locker room, they’ll run through a wall for him.”