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Cooper Rush is Forcing an Unlikely Quarterback Controversy

With Dak Prescott’s salary, there’s no way the Cowboys would sit him when he comes back from injury. But Cooper Rush can make that a tough call.

Should we be talking about this? Absolutely not.

But when a Dallas Cowboys quarterback starts winning games, people start talking.

After Dallas defeated Washington 25-10 on Sunday to improve to 3-1 on the season, Cooper Rush improved to 3-0 as a starter in 2022 in Dak Prescott‘s absence, and to 4-0 in his career. It was enough for ESPN.com to say the quiet part out loud in its weekly Monday overreaction column:

“Does Dallas have a legit QB competition?”

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Rush completed 15 of his 27 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Cowboys fans can now be thought of as members of a gigantic college fraternity or sorority.

That’s right, every week is Rush Week.

With that win, the 28-year-old Central Michigan grad became the first QB in NFL history to win the first four starts of his career with a QB rating of 90 or better in each outing, per the NFL. He’s also just the sixth undrafted QB ever to win his first four starts in the Super Bowl era.

The Cowboys’ historically great defense has certainly done its part to help the offense as well, allowing 19 or fewer points during their first four games for the first time since 1973.

“I guess I would say the defense and all the breaks you catch, it’s just kind of lucky,” said Rush, who is the only NFL starter left who has not yet thrown an interception this season. “QB win stats, they are what they are. It’s a team game, and it’s nice the defense having our back like that.”

Rush is just being modest. He’s among the league leaders in several significant statistical categories:

  • Tied for first in the league with two game-winning drives.
  • 4th in the NFL with a 74.9 QBR.
  • 6th in the league with 7.49 adjusted net yards per pass attempt.
  • 7th in the NFL with 8.01 adjusted yards per pass attempt.
  • 8th in the NFL with 11.9 yards per pass completion.
  • 11th in the league with a 95.9 passer rating.

Yes, the defense helps, but Rush is not turning the ball over and is putting his team in position to win games even with Prescott still recovering from the fractured thumb he suffered in Week 1.

But let’s talk about the 800-pound elephant in the room, shall we?

Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million contract last year with $126 million guaranteed and a $66 million signing bonus. That bonus means his base salary is just $1.6 million this season, per Spotrac, with a $19.73 million cap hit. But next year, the new deal really kicks in, ballooning to a $31 million salary and $49.13 million cap hit.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones won’t bench someone with a salary or a cap hit that high, no matter how well Rush is playing. The last time a backup QB stepped in and played this well was 16 years ago, when another undrafted player from a Midwest college named Tony Romo thrived in Drew Bledsoe’s absence. Romo then took the starting role from Bledsoe and never looked back. But Bledsoe was in the twilight of his career at 34 and on the second year of a three-year contract.

Prescott is a Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime making too much money for Rush to unseat him. After Prescott’s injury, Jones, who’s also Dallas’s general manager and sometimes cosplays as team doctor, targeted Week 5 for Prescott’s return. After Sunday’s win, Jones said that timetable may not be realistic if Prescott can’t grip the football without pain. Sources told Boardroom that gripping the football as a quarterback is important.

That means Rush will likely play Sunday as the Cowboys’ schedule gets particularly difficult. After three of their first four games were at home, Dallas travels to Los Angeles next Sunday for a showdown against the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, followed by a Sunday night date in Philadelphia against the undefeated Eagles. The nation will be watching both those games. And you just know that Jones wants to see his brightest star under center with tens of millions tuned in.

“There’s no thought about that,” Jones said, when asked if Rush’s strong play factors into Prescott’s return date.

Speaking with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio after the Washington win, Rush said he thinks he’s proven he can be an NFL starter outside Dallas and is trying to ignore the noise about a QB controversy, even if some of that noise is coming from Jones himself.

All the credit here should go to Rush, who’s making the most of this opportunity in Prescott’s absence. If he excels against the Rams and Eagles, the noise will grow louder in this developing non-controversy controversy.

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