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What happened to Dak Prescott is awful, but Jerry Jones shouldn’t be blamed

This time, the Cowboys owner doesn’t deserve the criticism

The real-time reaction Sunday to the gruesome, season-ending ankle injury suffered by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was as palpable as it was predictable. From the moment Prescott’s right ankle snapped while he was being tackled in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ 37-34 victory over the New York Giants, many NFL fans took to social media to blast team owner and general manager Jerry Jones for not doing right by the star passer.

They explained that Prescott, 27, does not have the security of a multiyear contract because he’s playing this season under the franchise tag, putting his future financial security at risk. They reminded us that athletes, particularly those who toil in the most dangerous workplace in team sports, risk suffering career-ending injuries on every play. Without a doubt, all of that is true.

Although the expectation is that Prescott will make a full recovery from the injuries (a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle) that doctors have told The Undefeated have sidelined athletes, in some cases, for more than six months, the reality is no one knows for sure what’s ahead for Prescott on the long, hard path he must travel. And even if Prescott — whose work ethic is second to none by all accounts — makes it back to the starting lineup of “America’s Team,” there are no guarantees that the 2016 Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Bowler will regain his former form.

But here’s where those expressing support for Prescott got it wrong: At least in this situation, Jones isn’t the villain.

Let’s review the facts.

After he thrived statistically last season during the Year of the Black Quarterback, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Prescott had signed a massive, long-term extension. Prescott is in the exclusive club of young Black signal-callers now at the top of the game. Both Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs — the crew’s leader — and Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans rightfully received huge paydays before the season: Mahomes and Watson signed extensions that made them the first- and second-highest-paid players, respectively, in NFL history.

And here’s the thing: The Cowboys offered Prescott one of those contracts that included a dizzying amount of zeroes. The team presented Prescott with a five-year deal worth $34.5 million per season — and more than $100 million guaranteed. You know what you call that? Long-term security.

Prescott, though, believed he is worth more. He declined the Cowboys’ offer and instead opted to play this season under the franchise tag at a salary of $31.4 million. His choice.

In any line of work in this universe, $31.4 million is still spectacular compensation. Obviously, though, Prescott would be in a better position financially if he had more than a one-year deal.

The likelihood is, Prescott, assuming he recovers fully in time for next season, won’t receive another similar long-term offer from the Cowboys anytime soon. Expect Jones to take a wait-and-see approach regarding future negotiations with Prescott, who’s in his fifth season as one of the league’s most high-profile starters at the game’s most important position. From a business perspective for the Cowboys, that just makes sense.

Of course, that’s unfortunate for Prescott. Under the circumstances, the outpouring of emotion for him was understandable. And it’s easy, especially for many Black NFL observers, to cast Jones as the antagonist in any production.

Throughout the new civil rights movement in sports, Jones has been among the most vocal owners in opposition to NFL players demonstrating to shine a light on systemic oppression and police brutality. Even as commissioner Roger Goodell mandated that the league change its position to support players who choose to protest in the wake of the ongoing national reckoning on racism, sparked primarily by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May, Jones, to say the least, declined to offer a full-throated endorsement of the league’s more enlightened position.

Additionally, some Black Cowboys fans have expressed frustration that Jones does not respect Prescott as a player as much as he did Tony Romo, the team’s former longtime starting quarterback. As proof of their theory of the case, they cite the fact Prescott is playing this season under the franchise tag.

Replace Prescott with Romo for purposes of this discussion, and Romo, fans insist, would have been paid in a long-term deal by now. There’s only one problem with that reasoning: It requires one to ignore the fact that Prescott was offered a multiyear deal.

Also, Prescott isn’t the first quarterback to play under the franchise tag. While he was with the Washington Football Team, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins played under it twice, making Cousins the only quarterback to do so in consecutive seasons. The mechanism is in the collective bargaining agreement. Once Prescott passed on the Cowboys’ multiyear offer, Jones had every right to avail himself of it to retain Prescott.

None of this is offered as an attempt to paint Jones as a sympathetic figure. He’s not one. And it’s awful what happened to Prescott during a contract drive. There’s just no logical link between Prescott’s injury and anger at Jones.

Prescott bet on himself, which was his right to do, and the gamble could still pay off big for him. It’s simply wrongheaded, however, to criticize Jones for accepting his wager.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.