Cowboys have a specific plan for Trey Lance, aim for more reps in offense through preseason

As of Wednesday night, the Dallas Cowboys know the whens and wheres of their 2024 schedule, one that is inching closer by the day to being played out with starting QB Dak Prescott on an expiring contract. As if the Cowboys don’t perpetually carry enough talking points for networks to discuss, evidenced by Dallas appearing in six primetime games, talks of Prescott’s future with either the Cowboys or any other franchise may truly just be getting started. This is a terrifying thought for any Cowboys fan that’s been subjected to this discourse all offseason, but perhaps more interestingly is the broader view of the Cowboys entire quarterback room. Not only is Prescott only under contract through 2024, but the same is true of Cooper Rush as well as Trey Lance.

The $22.4 million fifth-year option the Cowboys could have taken on Lance to at least have a QB with more than a one-year future was a non-starter, officially declined earlier this offseason. Not only has Lance not proven he can live up to his status as the third overall pick of three years ago, but as far the Cowboys are concerned, they’ve only seen him in limited practice reps after acquiring Lance in a trade with the 49ers.

According to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the latter here is about to change.

“It’s gonna be all about getting him a ton of reps throughout OTAs, mini camp, and then training camp. You’re gonna see him getting a ton right leading into the preseason.”

Schottenheimer called Lance an “unbelievable athlete” but noted that it’s difficult to learn how to play quarterback without getting snaps. Since Lance left high school, he started just 17 games at North Dakota State before starting four games in two seasons with San Francisco.

“Our big objective from the time he got back is obviously making sure he’s good with this system, which has been great,” Schottenheimer said. “Number two, is getting his fundamentals where we want them. OK. A guy that was at North Dakota State and San Francisco. The way they teach quarterbacks very different than how we teach a West Coast quarterback. It’s been a totally different light put on him now because we’re excited about the skills where we see the talent.”

Most of this is unsurprising when considering the fact Dallas has never been shy about breaking out the bubble wrap in the preseason for their most important players, where Prescott has to be near the top of the list if the 2024 plan is to contend at all. Schottenheimer also noted that the Cowboys already know what they have in Rush as Prescott’s primary backup since 2021, starting six games over this stretch and winning five. This leaves Lance as the player the Cowboys need to evaluate with live reps the most.

While it’s true that every player on a post-draft roster around the league right now is fighting for a future beyond just this season, the Cowboys have allowed major uncertainty about this not-so-long-term future when it comes to McCarthy as head coach, Prescott at quarterback, and other key positions. A strong showing from Lance in a scheme that he’s been studying ever since arriving in Dallas could put him firmly in the Cowboys future plans, able to sell his upside as a former first-round pick that’s hardly seen the field no matter the scheme and personnel changes that could be coming.

“The best thing he does to this day is still improvise and move. So now let’s see what concepts he likes to see what he’s comfortable doing from a protection standpoint of solving problems and things like that. And over the time, we’re gonna get that figured out so we could put together a really good package for him when he’s got it to go play.”

Schottenheimer even noted that the Cowboys own version of some of the West Coast concepts that McCarthy and him have installed are not 100% translatable to Lance’s current game, and helping him bridge this gap from not only the mental side but physically with on-field experience is critical. Lance has the arm strength to push the ball downfield the way the Cowboys were able to when at their best on offense a year ago, and figuring out what other structures can take advantage of his improvisation skills and mobility is a solid goal for training camp and the preseason.

This development plan for Lance comes at the same time as the Cowboys will have real competition just about everywhere else on offense. How they line up at WR beyond CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks, how the ‘RB by committee’ approach sorts itself out, as well as depth spots along the offensive line, will all need to be evaluated with a QB that can execute these reps at a high level. By the sounds of it, the Cowboys are preparing to trust Lance quite a bit in this role, and how or if it carries into any regular season playing time will surely be a question to revisit depending on the still-stagnant contract negotiations between the front office and Dak Prescott.

Throw in the fact the Cowboys are starting 2024 with a new defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer, whose been out of the NFL entirely since 2021, and it’s hard to remember a lead-up to a Cowboys season with this much mystery and uncertainty on both sides of the ball – all the way through to the current QB3 on the roster.


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