With offseason programs in the books, NFL teams will next month turn their attention to training camp as preparations for the 2021 season ramp up.

Every coaching staff in the league knows that having a reliable offensive line will be crucial to their hopes of success in the coming campaign.

Too many holes in the trenches can doom a team's chances in a hurry regardless of the talent at quarterback and the offensive skill positions.

Reflecting the importance of strong play up front, five offensive linemen were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

And, using combined run block and pass protection data over the past three seasons, Stats Perform has produced projected offensive line rankings to see how each team stacks up in the trenches.

Here we look at which teams are in the best shape, which O-Lines could cause problems for their quarterback and which appear to ready to make the leap to the league's best in 2021.


THE ELITE

1. Dallas Cowboys

LT – Tyron Smith, LG – Connor Williams, C – Tyler Biadasz, RG – Zack Martin, RT – La'el Collins

Injuries decimated the Dallas O-Line in 2020 but, when healthy, it is tough to see another unit in the league that can match this group for overall talent.

That may be a substantial caveat but, should the Cowboys keep their starters in the line-up in 2021, Dak Prescott will have the benefit of excellent protection from several spots up front.

Tyron Smith missed all but two games last season but remains the top pass protecting left tackle in our projected ranks. Zack Martin is second in pass protection among right guards and, if he can return to his best after missing six games in 2020 and right tackle La'el Collins can stay on the field and play at a high level, a stacked Cowboys offense will be in an excellent spot to produce at an historic pace as they did last year before Prescott went down.

2. New England Patriots

LT – Isaiah Wynn, LG – Mike Onwenu, C – David Andrews, RG – Shaq Mason, RT – Trent Brown

The Patriots lost Joe Thuney in free agency but, despite the departure of one of the most dependable guards in football, New England heads into 2021 with an elite group hoping to help the offense bounce back from a dismal 2020.

Trent Brown's return should fortify the right side of the line while left tackle Isaiah Wynn shouldn't have to worry much about his inside shoulder with Mike Onwenu ranking as the second-best pass protecting left guard in the NFL after an excellent rookie season.

David Andrews grades out as the top run-blocking center in football -- he allowed a run disruption on only 5.3 per cent of his snaps in 2020, with Corey Linsley well adrift in second on 6.2 per cent -- while Shaq Mason is in the top three in that area at right guard.

Regardless of whether it's Cam Newton or Mac Jones under center in 2021, the O-Line is constructed in a way where the quarterback and a replenished set of skill-position players should have every chance to succeed.

3. Baltimore Ravens

LT – Ronnie Stanley, LG – Bradley Bozeman, C – Patrick Mekari, RG – Kevin Zeitler, RT – Alejandro Villanueva

Baltimore's presence in the top three may raise a few eyebrows given they traded right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs.

However, their lofty position is largely a testament to the play of Ronnie Stanley, the left tackle who will be looking to bounce back after seeing his 2020 season ended by an ankle injury.

Stanley ranks tied-fourth among left tackles and was stellar in pass protection prior to getting hurt, with his pressure rate allowed of 4.4 per cent bettered only by David Bakhtiari and Andrew Whitworth at his position.

Having given up a pressure rate of 11.9 per cent at left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, Alejandro Villanueva will have a challenge replacing Brown, who allowed pressures on just 5.8 per cent of his right tackle snaps in 2020.

But the interior was the main issue for the Ravens last season and, with fourth-ranked right guard Kevin Zeitler arriving from the New York Giants, Baltimore should be confident of a noticeable improvement in the middle of their line.

THE STRUGGLERS

30. Chicago Bears

LT – Teven Jenkins, LG – Cody Whitehair, C – Sam Mustipher, RG – Germain Ifedi, RT – Elijah Wilkinson

After surprisingly allowing Charles Leno to leave, the Bears are banking on Teven Jenkins successfully making the switch from college right tackle to NFL left tackle as a rookie. That he will do so successfully is a dubious presumption to make and there is little to rely on at any spot on the trenches for Chicago.

Cody Whitehair at least provided a solid presence at left guard but the interior protection for Andy Dalton, or rookie first-round pick Justin Fields, will be suspect if Sam Mustipher cannot make strides at center.

Tied as the third-worst center in the NFL in the projected rankings, only Hroniss Grasu (2.8%) fared worse than Mustipher (2.3%) in terms of adjusted sack rate allowed in 2020.

31. Carolina Panthers

LT – Greg Little, LG – Dennis Daley, C – Matt Paradis, RG – John Miller, RT – Taylor Moton

Carolina looks set at right tackle, with Taylor Moton ranking as the fifth-best player at the position, but they have little in the way of solutions elsewhere up front.

The left side looms as a massive issue for the Panthers. Greg Little grades out as the worst left tackle in football and Dennis Daley is 30th among left guards in the projected rankings.

It is far from an ideal scenario for Sam Darnold to step into as quarterback, and he will hope center Matt Paradis can do a significantly better job snapping the football. Paradis' bad snap percentage of 3.49 was fourth-worst in the NFL in 2020.

32. Minnesota Vikings

LT – Christian Darrisaw, LG – Dru Samia, C – Garrett Bradbury, RG – Ezra Cleveland, RT – Brian O'Neill

Offensive line issues have long since plagued the Vikings, who invested a premium pick in a new left tackle by using their first-round selection on Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech.

Darrisaw named Trent Williams and Laremy Tunsil as his favourite linemen to watch prior to the draft. If he replicates their impact, he will be a success, but there are substantial problems on the interior.

Dru Samia is the worst left guard in the NFL in the projected rankings, and center Garrett Bradbury allowed pressure on 8.1 per cent of his pass protection snaps. Only two players to take snaps center had worse pressure rates in 2020.

READY TO MAKE THE LEAP

Kansas City Chiefs

LT – Orlando Brown Jr, LG – Joe Thuney, C – Austin Blythe, RG – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT – Mike Remmers

The Chiefs completely remodelled their offensive line in the wake of giving up 33 pressures in the Super Bowl LV, and there is little doubt they head into 2021 with a much-improved group as they attempt to win back the Lombardi Trophy.

Kansas City will need an improvement from Brown following his trade from Baltimore. In his 221 pass protection snaps at left tackle after Stanley's injury, Brown gave up a pressure rate of 10.9 per cent. Having campaigned to play on the left side, Brown's performance figures to come under significant scrutiny.

He will be helped by the presence of Thuney, second among all left guards in the projected rankings after allowing pressure on just 4.3 per cent of his snaps in his final season in New England.

With Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returning to man the right guard spot, the Chiefs' line has an air of solidity about it. Eleventh in the projected ranks, the Chiefs could jump into the top 10 if not the top five should their additions perform to their potential.

Los Angeles Chargers

LT – Rashawn Slater, LG – Matt Feiler, C – Corey Linsley, RG – Oday Aboushi, RT – Bryan Bulaga

Staying in the AFC West with a Chargers team many will be backing to surge towards postseason contention after an Offensive Rookie of the Year season from Justin Herbert, for Los Angeles much hinges on the performance of rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater in his first season in the league.

That is a lot of expectation to place on a player who did not feature in the 2020 college season, but the optimism should come from Slater's 2019 performance for Northwestern, which saw him give up just six pressures on 220 pass protection snaps.

Yet the most important addition for Herbert may be that of center Corey Linsley, who arrived from the Green Bay Packers. Just three centers graded above Linsley in the projected ranks and his ability to quickly develop a rapport with Herbert will be pivotal to the Chargers realising their potential. History suggests the 2020 first-team All-Pro should succeed in doing so.

Arizona Cardinals

LT – D.J. Humphries, LG – Justin Pugh, C – Rodney Hudson, RG – Brian Winters, RT – Kelvin Beachum

The Cardinals must be strong up front if Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are to have a chance of inspiring Arizona to a successful season in an NFC West loaded with pass-rushing talent, and they made an astute addition on the interior this offseason in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders that saw them acquire three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson.

Tied for fourth with Linsley among centers in the projected rankings, Hudson's experience will be a valuable asset to Murray as he looks to take a step forward in year three, the former Kansas City Chief recording a pressure rate allowed of 1.7 per cent that was the second-best in the league at his position.

Kelvin Beachum is a substantial asset to the ground game. His run disruption percentage of 5.9 per cent was third among right tackles in 2020 and, with D.J. Humphries allowing only 28 pressures on 450 pass protection snaps last season, Murray will have three dependable players at the most important positions on the line in a year where another underwhelming campaign will not be acceptable.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the new NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9, while Sam Darnold is to be quickly reunited with the New York Jets.

Ahead of the full schedule release later on Wednesday, the Week 1 slate was confirmed with Tom Brady's Bucs the highlight.

After winning the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, seven-time champion Brady is in the Thursday night game against the Cowboys in Tampa.

The Bucs have brought back the entirety of their title-winning team and face a Dallas outfit aiming to improve on an awful 2020 after signing Dak Prescott to a long-term contract.

Elsewhere, quarterback Darnold will make his Carolina Panthers debut against the Jets team he left this offseason.

In three miserable years in New York, Darnold threw for 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions across 38 games with a 59.8 completion percentage – the third-worst rate in the league over this period.

The former third overall pick was traded to the Panthers last month for a sixth-round pick this year and a second and fourth-rounders in 2022, with the Jets then using the second selection in 2021 to take Zach Wilson.

Among Wilson's fellow first-round QBs, Mac Jones could potentially make his bow against the man he succeeded at Alabama.

Jones, who is competing for the starting spot on the New England Patriots with Cam Newton, will hope to face Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in a big AFC East matchup.

Trevor Lawrence is likely to go straight into the Jacksonville Jaguars team against the Houston Texans, while Trey Lance will hope to get his chance under center for the San Francisco 49ers at the Detroit Lions and Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears at the Los Angeles Rams in the late Sunday game.

The NFL also confirmed Wilson and Lawrence would be in line for appearances in the London games in October, with the Jets facing the Atlanta Falcons and the Jaguars taking on the Dolphins on consecutive weekends.

Another of the more intriguing Week 1 games sees the Green Bay Packers travel to the New Orleans Saints.

As the Saints begin the post-Drew Brees era, the Packers will hope wantaway MVP Aaron Rodgers is still on the team and able to improve his 3-2 career record as a starter against New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks, who have kept hold of Russell Wilson, face the Indianapolis Colts, and Patrick Mahomes' latest title tilt sees the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns.

Mahomes went down with a toe injury and then a concussion in an epic Chiefs win over the Browns in the 2020 postseason, with 35-year-old backup Chad Henne making his playoff debut and having a pick and a sack but completing six of eight passes to complete the job.

In the first Monday Night Football of the season, Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens will go to the Las Vegas Raiders.


Week 1 schedule in full:

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sep 9, 8:20pm ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Denver Broncos at New York Giants – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams – Sep 12, 8:20pm ET
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders – Sep 13, 8:15pm ET

The Philadelphia Eagles saw a chance to grab a playmaker for Jalen Hurts and made their move, trading up to select DeVonta Smith with the 10th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Philadelphia swapped with their division rivals the Dallas Cowboys to move up two slots in the draft order and take Smith, sending the 12th overall pick and a 2021 third-round selection to the Cowboys.

Smith won the Heisman Trophy as the best college player in the country in 2020, and the wide receiver will give the Eagles a significant weapon on offense. 

Last season, Smith caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns as he helped Alabama win the national championship.

Smith and Hurts were teammates at Alabama in 2017 and 2018, just before the receiver blossomed into one of the best players in the country. 

His selection continued a draft-day trend of NFL teams reuniting quarterbacks with receivers they had played with in college. 

Previously the Cincinnati Bengals paired up Ja'Marr Chase with former LSU teammate Joe Burrow and the Miami Dolphins selected Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle to play with QB Tua Tagovailoa once again. 

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott might be ahead of schedule in his return from the ankle injury that ended his 2020 season prematurely, according to Mike McCarthy.

Cowboys head coach McCarthy watched Prescott go through rehabilitation work on Saturday and was pleased with the progress the two-time NFL Pro Bowler has made.

Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in an October 11 game against the New York Giants but has had no apparent setbacks in his rehab. 

"He's throwing now, doing footwork drills. He's made a lot of progress," McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday.

"Very disciplined in his regimen. He's here almost every day. I'd say he's right on track or maybe a little ahead of schedule.

"I was very impressed with his progress. Just coming off the type of injury and his footwork, and he's doing all of the normal movements that you look to do in a quarterback-school format this time of year."

Prescott had surgery in October to fix the injury, then another procedure in December to address a prior issue with ligaments in the ankle. 

He signed a four-year contract extension in March that guarantees him $126million and could be worth $160m. 

At the news conference announcing that deal, Prescott pronounced himself "healthy" and said he was "getting close" to a return to the practice field. 

The 27-year-old had never missed a start in his NFL career before the ankle injury.

In those 69 regular-season games, he has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

Prescott has also rushed for 1,314 yards and 24 more touchdowns.

The 2021 NFL Draft is now under a week away, with excitement rapidly building for fans of the 32 franchises.

With five quarterbacks tipped to go in the first round, and potentially all going in the top 10, the stakes this year are even higher than normal with many teams sensing a chance to secure their future at the game's most important position.

Clemson sensation Trevor Lawrence, billed as a generational talent at QB, is the presumptive number one pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

BYU standout Zach Wilson, meanwhile, appears to be locked in for the New York Jets at number two.

From there, a host of speculation and debate has followed the key picks, not least the selection of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners traded two first-round picks to move up from 12 to 3, with their trade partners the Miami Dolphins subsequently getting themselves back up to 6 in a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Using Stats Perform data, we have picked out some of the mooted selections that may make the most sense as the draft begins to unfold on Thursday.

JUSTIN FIELDS TO SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It is hard to see how offensive guru Kyle Shanahan would turn down a skillset like that possessed by Ohio State QB Justin Fields.

While a couple of poor performances in 2020 ended talk he could challenge Lawrence as number one, while a stellar season from Wilson propelled him up draft boards, the data suggests Fields is a unique talent.

He threw for 63 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in 22 games across 2019 and 2020.

Fields added 867 rushing yards and 15 TDs on the ground in that period, earning 59 first downs with his legs and forcing 37 missed tackles.

It is that dual-threat athletic ability that creates endless possibilities for an elite play-caller like Shanahan and should separate Fields from the productive but statuesque Mac Jones. 

However, Trey Lance - who has the highest range of outcomes of the first-round prospects - also ticks many of the boxes that Fields does and is another contender for the Niners at three.

KYLE PITTS TO ATLANTA FALCONS

Kyle Pitts racked up 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games in 2020, not dropping any of his targets.

Much more than a tight end, his athletic numbers have seen him surge up draft boards and he is rightly considered to be an offensive weapon unlike any other to have come out over recent years.

If the Atlanta Falcons are unable to find a deal to their liking and move out of the number four spot, they would be wise to look at the Florida pass-catcher.

With Matt Ryan remaining at QB and Pitts added to the receiving mix with the likes of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst, new head coach Arthur Smith may have an offense that is close to unstoppable.

PENEI SEWELL TO CINCINNATI BENGALS

Huge debate continues in Cincinnati over whether the Bengals should draft their left tackle of the future in Penei Sewell or reunite Joe Burrow with LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase at number five.

While having an elite player in one of three WR spots may have a slight analytical advantage over filling one of five offensive line spots with a star, the Bengals may feel there is plenty of receiving talent in the second round, as they showed with the impressive pick up of Tee Higgins in 2020.

If they opted for Sewell, it would be a decisive step in protecting Joe Burrow, whose promising rookie season behind a dreadful offensive line was curtailed by a brutal knee injury.

Sewell allowed just 13 pressures on 285 true pass protection snaps in 2019, ninth in pressure rate allowed (4.6%) among LTs with at least 200 snaps.

Given he did that in the Pac-12 at age 19 and has since posted incredible athletic numbers, it is easy to see why he should be one of the highest non-QBs taken.

JA'MARR CHASE TO MIAMI DOLPHINS

An extraordinary 2019 season for Chase saw him grab 20 touchdowns and 1,780 yards in 14 games for LSU as they won the National Championship.

A receiver who can win at all levels of the field, Chase's draft stock has not been impacted by sitting out of the 2020 season.

The Miami Dolphins have committed to building around QB Tua Tagovailoa despite his shaky rookie season.

What better way to help him than adding an immediate number one receiver who would suddenly make a group already containing DeVante Parker, Will Fuller and Preston Williams one of the NFL's best.

If the Dolphins end up getting Chase at number six and emerge from the process with an extra first-round pick for their troubles after the trade with the Niners, it may prove to be one of the great draft moves.

MAC JONES TO DENVER BRONCOS

With 4,500 passing yards, Mac Jones topped college quarterbacks in an incredible 2020 campaign for Alabama, adding 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

He threw a touchdown on 10.2 per cent of his 402 attempts, highest of any QB to attempt more than 250 passes, with only Wilson (11) having a higher TD/INT rate than Jones (10.25).

The two main concerns with Jones are whether his lack of athleticism lowers his chances of success in the modern NFL and how much his stellar supporting cast should be weighted in his evaluation, particularly after a rough start for Tagovailoa coming out of the same college offense.

While the latter question is part of the typical draft uncertainty, the athleticism could become less of an issue in a team where a stellar group of receivers who can get open regularly is already in place, reducing the emphasis on plays outside of structure.

That is the case with the Denver Broncos, who pick at number nine, with Jones' former college team-mate Jerry Jeudy joined by Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K. J. Hamler and Noah Fant.

PATRICK SURTAIN II TO DALLAS COWBOYS

With offensive talent likely to dominate the early picks, the Dallas Cowboys' selection at 10 has been a popular one in many mocks for the first defensive player to come off the board.

Caleb Farley's back procedures mean he is no longer seen as a clear number one option at cornerback – a position of need for Dallas – so Patrick Surtain II may be a safe selection for them depending on their evaluation of Farley.

Surtain was seventh in burns allowed percentage (39.6%) among draft-eligible outside corners with at least 100 coverage snaps and 25 targets in the Power 5 in 2020. He is also seventh in burn yards per target allowed (7.63).

KWITY PAYE TO NEW YORK GIANTS

There is significant uncertainty over the edge class in 2021, with many prospects tipped to go in the mid to late first round and multiple candidates to be the leading representative at the position.

Coronavirus opt outs mean there are lower snap counts and smaller sample sizes to work from compared to those to come out in previous seasons, so there remain some intriguing prospects but no home runs like Chase Young.

One of the most enticing is Kwity Paye, who was restricted to four games for Michigan in 2020 but had 6.5 sacks in 2019.

The New York Giants' defense was a surprise success story in 2020. They have reinforced the secondary in the offseason and remain strong on interior of the trenches with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, so a consistent threat off the edge could make for a formidable unit.

While receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle - or offensive tackle Rashawn Salter - would be big temptations if available at number 11, reports this week claimed Giants GM Dave Gettleman was considering taking the unusual step of trading down.

If it happens, it may indicate finding better value and taking a pass-rusher is their preferred route.

Should he can do that and still land a top pass-rusher like Paye or the ultra-athletic Jayson Oweh, whose overall pressure rate in 2020 was 26.2%, good for fourth-best among edge rushers in the draft, it would make sense for the Giants.

TREY LANCE TO NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

A spending spree from New England, and their transition last year from Tom Brady to Cam Newton, means they could represent an exciting landing spot for the raw but prodigious talent Lance.

With 1,100 rushing yards and 14 TDs in 2019, Lance is a QB who provides an elite rushing threat like Newton did in his prime for the Carolina Panthers.

Two top tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith offer big bodies to throw to, with the Patriots possessing an offensive line and a system already geared around a rushing QB in Newton who has a similar skill set.

New England will be pondering whether to move up from 15 to secure a QB and would be an excellent landing spot for Lance, regardless of whether they want him to start Week 1.

Dak Prescott's season-ending Week 5 injury ensured 2020 was a wasted year for the Dallas Cowboys.

Rather than bolster their defense, the Cowboys gave Prescott an exciting new weapon with the 17th overall pick in the NFL Draft last April.

But wide receiver CeeDee Lamb's impact was diminished after Dallas' quarterback sustained a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle.

Without their talisman, the Cowboys stumbled to a 6-10 record, only good enough for third in the poor NFC East.

However, Prescott is set to return in 2021 and has committed his future to the franchise following a long-awaited breakthrough in contract talks.

This year's draft also provides the opportunity for a re-do, which should address the key flaws highlighted here with the help of Stats Perform data.

Offense

Prescott's lay-off makes an assessment of the Cowboys' offense last year rather tricky, but the team showed enough in his limited time on the field to encourage optimism.

Dallas finished 17th in the league for total points scored with 24.7 per game, yet this average was 32.6 points across the five games Prescott played. Over the course of the season, the Green Bay Packers led the league with an inferior 31.8 points.

Likewise, for five weeks, Prescott threw a sensational 371.2 yards per game, the most of any QB in the NFL in 2020. It is an achievement even more impressive when considering he bowed out in the third quarter of his fifth outing.

To put the Cowboys' miserable results in perspective, backup QB Andy Dalton (197.3 yards per game) ranked 37th. In the NFC East, he outperformed only Philadelphia Eagles rookie Jalen Hurts (70.7 yards per game) among players with 100 attempts.

Even with Dalton applying the handbrake, Amari Cooper put up 1,114 yards from 92 receptions for five touchdowns. Lamb also had five TDs on 74 catches for 935 yards, while Michael Gallup's own five came from 59 receptions and 843 yards.

Cooper had contributed eight scores the previous season when paired with Prescott throughout, and Lamb will hope he can similarly profit from the starting QB's return.

The receiving corps could still be more efficient, however. Lamb dropped 8.1 per cent of the passes sent in his direction, while running back Ezekiel Elliott dropped 8.5 per cent - the Dallas pair ranking third and second-worst among players with 50 or more targets.

Behind an offensive line also ravaged by injury, Elliott - another former first-round pick on offense - led the way on the ground with 244 carries for 979 yards and six rushing TDs. The Cowboys' 111.8 rushing yards per game ranked 17th.

So there is still plenty of room for improvement but reason to believe Prescott's return will lift this offense into the upper echelons.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said he was doing cartwheels while on holiday when he heard star quarterback Dak Prescott had re-signed with the NFL franchise.

Prescott had a long-running contract saga which came to an end three weeks ago, signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $160million after he had been tagged last offseason.

Two-time Pro Bowler Prescott only managed five games in 2020 due to a serious ankle injury as the Cowboys finished outside the playoffs with a 6-10 record.

McCarthy, who enters his second season in charge of the Cowboys in 2021, was holidaying in Florida when he found out Prescott's contract saga had ended and was delighted to secure his future.

"It's a lot easier to do cartwheels on the sand, I'll say that," McCarthy said. "Obviously I was very excited."

He added: "Dak is the keystone of this team. I'm excited about year two on offense. In a lot of ways, we didn't feel like we got to have a year one."

Since taking the starting role as a rookie in 2016 from an injured Tony Romo, Prescott has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

He has also rushed for 1,314 yards and a further 24 touchdowns.

Though he missed most of last season, Prescott is 10th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.69) and 12th in passing plays of 25 yards or more since 2016.

The quarterback said earlier this month that he was close to being fully healthy following ankle surgery, well ahead of the September start for the 2021 season.

McCarthy added: "His presence and natural leadership ability is something that will continue to grow. You'll see that in the locker room."

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott insisted he was "healthy" after undergoing ankle surgery.

Prescott needed surgery after suffering an ankle injury in October last year and he made just five appearances last season.

The 27-year-old's long-running contract saga came to an end earlier this week, signing a four-year deal reportedly worth $160million.

Prescott said he was getting closer to being completely healthy as preparations continue for the new season.

"I thought about jogging out here and jumping up on the stage, but I don't know if y'all are ready for that," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

"I'm healthy. I control what I can control, I followed the doctor's orders the whole time, put in my own work ethic to it. You saw me walking out here. I've been on that field back there [rehabbing]. I'm healthy and I'm getting close."

Prescott added: "I'll be ready when it matters and I'll be more healthy and better than I was before."

Since taking the starting role as a rookie in 2016 from an injured Tony Romo, Prescott has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

He has also rushed for 1,314 yards and a further 24 touchdowns.

Though he missed most of last season, Prescott is 10th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.69) and 12th in passing plays of 25 yards or more since 2016.

Prescott needed a second surgery on his ankle and he explained why he decided to undergo another operation.

"Obviously the first surgery with an open wound, you want to get that and eliminate any risk of infection," Prescott said.

"We got a month or so down the road and said it would be best if we went in there and did do that [second surgery] now so as Mr [Jerry] Jones said, 10 years, 15 years, I can be playing still and not have to deal with something bothering me.

"We might as well knock it out and get it straight now while I'm already missing time. That was obviously the thought behind that."

Dak Prescott was congratulated on his long-awaited new Dallas Cowboys contract by a host of stars, with a Super Bowl challenge next on the agenda.

The Cowboys tied their quarterback to a four-year deal reportedly worth $160million on Monday, a day before Tuesday's deadline to place the franchise tag on impending free agents. Dallas tagged Prescott last offseason.

Reports say the agreement, which brings to an end one of the longest-running QB sagas in the league, will see Prescott receive $126m guaranteed in a deal that contains a no-trade clause.

Tad Prescott, Dak's brother, was among the first to react and he wrote on Twitter: "Let's go, Dak. Time to win the Cowboys a Super Bowl."

Former Cowboy Dez Bryant suggested the positive resolution was absolutely vital to the team's title hopes.

He compared the stand-off to running back DeMarco Murray's Dallas departure in 2015, shortly after a controversial playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.

"The Dak situation started to remind me [of when] we let DeMarco walk in '15," Bryant posted.

"Me, personally, I knew our chances of having a chance to win the Super Bowl [were] gone.

"It wasn't the catch [against Green Bay], it was DeMarco leaving the team which made me feel hopeless. Smart decision, Cowboys."

DeMarcus Ware, Bryant's former team-mate, added: "Congrats, Dak. Go finish what you started."

The Cowboys were 6-10 in 2020 and have not played an NFC Championship Game since winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 1995 season.

Prescott has work to do to make the team competitive again, having missed much of last year following a devastating compound fracture of his right ankle in the Week 5 win over the New York Giants.

He has the backing of several big names, however.

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey wrote: "It's always earned. Nobody just giving out free money lol. Congrats, Dak."

Free agent wide receiver Golden Tate said: "Congrats to Dak and the best agent in the biz Todd France!"

And NBA All-Star Donovan Mitchell added: "Get paid, my guy! Dak, congrats!"

Ex-NFL defender Darius Butler even suggested Prescott had got a better deal than Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs QB who signed the most lucrative contract in sports.

He wrote: "I'm not a contract specialist but I feel like Dak got a much better deal than Mahomes. 

"$75M in year one. $66M guaranteed at signing. No trade, no tag. Back at the table at age 31 at the latest."

The Dallas Cowboys have signed franchise quarterback Dak Prescott to a four-year deal reportedly worth up to $160million.

Dallas announced the deal on Monday, a day before Tuesday's deadline to place the franchise tag on impending free agents. The Cowboys tagged Prescott last offseason.

Prescott will receive $126million guaranteed, according to multiple reports, in a deal that contains a no-trade clause.

The agreement brings to an end one of the longest-running quarterback contract sagas in the league.

Having failed to come to a resolution on a contract last offseason, Prescott earned $31.4m on the franchise tag.

However, he suffered a devastating compound fracture of his right ankle in the Cowboys' Week 5 win over the New York Giants in October.

Despite that injury, the Cowboys have finally chosen to pay one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, with the former fourth-round pick having more than justified his new contract.

Since taking the starting role as a rookie in 2016 from an injured Tony Romo, Prescott has thrown for 17,634 yards with 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.

He has also rushed for 1,314 yards and a further 24 touchdowns.

Though he missed most of last season, Prescott is 10th among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.69) and 12th in passing plays of 25 yards or more since 2016.

The Cowboys will hold a media conference on Wednesday.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has reportedly not demanded a trade, according to his agent Mark Rodgers.

It was claimed by The Athletic that Wilson's relationship with the Seahawks coaching staff had reached breaking point.

Rodgers told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Thursday that the 32-year-old wants to play for the Seahawks, but if a trade were to be given consideration then only four teams would be in the running.

Wilson's agent named the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders and Chicago Bears as the only viable destinations for Wilson.

At the end of last season the quarterback voiced his frustration over the number of hits he had received and spoke of wanting a greater say in team affairs.

Wilson signed a four-year, $140million extension in April 2019 which includes a no-trade clause which needs to be waive for a deal to take place.

The Seahawks finished as division champions but were stunned by Los Angeles Rams in the NFL play-offs.

The Green Bay Packers will hope to seal the top seed in the NFC when they face rivals the Chicago Bears, but the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks will be ready to pounce on any slip-up.

A tie on Sunday would be enough for the Packers to secure a first-round bye in the postseason, though they would also receive it regardless of their own result if the Seahawks fail to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

If the Seahawks are to head straight into the Divisional Round, they need to beat the 49ers and hope the Packers lose and the Saints fail to win against the Carolina Panthers.

New Orleans, meanwhile, need a victory over the Panthers to coincide with the Packers losing to the Bears and Seattle beating San Francisco.

Division titles are up for grabs in the AFC South and NFC East, with the Tennessee Titans and Washington Football Team looking to hold on and top their sections, while the Cleveland Browns will be aiming to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002 when they face a Pittsburgh Steelers side without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

 

FEATURED GAME

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears – Sunday, 4.25pm

- This will be the third Week 17 meeting since 2010 for the long-time rivals, and the previous two were critical games. In the 2010 campaign, the Packers needed to beat the Bears at Lambeau Field to make the postseason; they won 10-3 and went on to win Super Bowl XLV. The teams met in Week 17 three years later in Chicago; the Packers' 33-28 success earned them the NFC North crown and eliminated the Bears. 

- A win over Chicago would secure the NFC's top seed for Green Bay – as well as a second consecutive 13-3 season. The Packers have posted back-to-back seasons of 13 or more wins only once, in 1996 and 1997 with Brett Favre at quarterback. In the Super Bowl era, only one team has had consecutive seasons with at least 13 victories and no Super Bowl appearance: the Saints of 2018 and 2019.

- Aaron Rodgers has 51 touchdown passes against the Bears in his regular-season career, second only to Favre's 60. Including the 2010 NFC Championship Game, Rodgers is 20-5 versus Chicago for an .800 winning percentage, the fourth highest by any QB versus a single opponent since 1950 (minimum 25 starts; postseason included).

OTHER KEY GAMES

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers – Sunday, 4.25pm

- Alvin Kamara rushed for six touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day, tying the NFL record set by Ernie Nevers in 1929. Kamara's 58 scrimmage TDs rank as the third most by a player through his first four seasons all-time (Terrell Davis – 61, LaDainian Tomlinson – 60).

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers – Sunday, 4.25pm

- After hurting the Arizona Cardinals' postseason chances with a 20-12 win at State Farm Stadium on Saturday, the 49ers will hope to play spoiler for a second straight week. A win over Seattle on Sunday would give San Francisco a 4-2 record within the NFC West, which would be a division-best – even as they finish in last place.

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans – Sunday, 4.25pm

Tennessee will clinch its first AFC South title since 2008 with a win, or an Indianapolis Colts loss versus the Jacksonville Jaguars this week. A win over Houston would also tie the Titans franchise record for road wins in a season (currently 5-2: 6-2 in 1996, 2000, 2008).

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts – Sunday, 4.25pm

Indianapolis and Jacksonville both have eight players with over 250 receiving yards this season, the only two teams in the NFL with as many. The Jaguars had never had eight players with 250 receiving yards in the same season before, while the Colts had it happen once before (2016, eight players). If they are to snatch the AFC South division title, Indianapolis need to win and hope Tennessee fail to match them, or tie and see the Titans lose.

Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles - Sunday, 8.20pm

Washington have lost six of their past seven games against the Eagles, including three straight on the road. Their lone success came in Week 1 this year after they scored the final 27 points of the game and won 27-17. A tie would be enough for Washington to clinch the NFC East division title, as long as the Dallas Cowboys fail to beat the New York Giants.

ELSEWHERE…

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants – Sunday, 1.00pm

Daniel Jones has not thrown an interception in 162 consecutive pass attempts, the longest active streak in the NFL and the third-longest streak by a Giant in the past 30 seasons (Eli Manning – 176 in 2014, Phil Simms – 173 in 1993). To reach the playoffs, Dallas needs a win and for Washington not to match them, or a tie and a Washington loss. New York need a win and a Washington loss.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns – Sunday, 1.00pm

Nick Chubb is averaging 5.45 yards per carry this season and has run for 11 touchdowns. He is set to will become the second player in NFL history with 5.0+ yards per carry and 8+ rush TDs in three straight seasons, joining another Browns player in Leroy Kelly (1966-68). With a win or a Colts loss on Sunday, the Browns would snap their 17-season playoff drought, which is tied for the longest in the NFL since the merger (1970-86 Saints, 2000-16 Buffalo Bills).

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