FRISCO, Texas — Cooper Rush was like a lot of people at DFW on March 16. Stuck.

Bad weather delayed his flight. One delay was followed by another. And another. He spent hours at the airport, checking his phone, wondering if he was ever going to get on the plane.

After going 4-1 last season as the Dallas Cowboys‘ starting quarterback while Dak Prescott recovered from thumb surgery, Rush was a hot commodity in free agency. He was flying to Las Vegas that day to meet with the Raiders, and the Cincinnati Bengals also expressed interest and hoped to set up a visit.

“I think one guy noticed me,” Rush, 29, said. “I don’t know if anybody else did.”

Periodically, he would get calls from his agent, Chris Cabott, with updates. The Cowboys had made an offer, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from getting on the plane.

While sitting at the gate, the Cowboys made another offer.

“Just the timing of it, the Cowboys came in with a good deal,” Rush said. “As weird as it is, it was around the same time I was kind of waiting to leave.”

Though the flight was never canceled, Rush never got on the plane. He took a night to sleep on the Cowboys’ offer and woke up on St. Patrick’s Day with a two-year deal worth a max of $6 million that included a $1.25 million signing bonus.

“It was stressful,” Rush said. “We had a lot going on. It was a little more stressful than I expected. No sleep.”

On Feb. 27, Rush and his wife, Lauryn, welcomed their second daughter, Evelyn, to the world, joining sister Ayla. For all but a few months in 2020, the Dallas area had been their home since Rush joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Rush said he did not view the delayed flight as a sign telling him not to leave.

“I was just pumped to see what I got from Dallas and go from there,” Rush said.

Rush’s role with the Cowboys is important.

He has become a confidant to Prescott over the years. With the offseason departure of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, that bond means even more in 2023, as Prescott works deeper relationships with head coach Mike McCarthy (calling plays for the first time in his four seasons), new quarterbacks coach Scott Tolzien (who had been on the staff prior) and develops a relationship with new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

On the field, Rush has shown he can handle the moment. He threw for more than 300 yards in a 2021 victory at the Minnesota Vikings in the first start of his career, including the winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds remaining.

In 2022, he saved the Cowboys’ season after Prescott’s thumb injury with four wins in five starts. Without that run, the Cowboys would not have made the playoffs. While his numbers were modest in the five starts — 956 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions (all in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles) — he did exactly what the Cowboys needed.

“I think Cooper did an outstanding job of just keeping us playing the way we wanted to play,” McCarthy said during the season.

Said Prescott during the season, “Just knowing the way he prepares, how he approaches each and every day, how mentally tough he is, how mentally sharp he is, I knew that he was going to go out there and put our team in a position to do exactly what they did.”

After re-signing with the Cowboys, Rush took some time to reflect on 2022 and his career.

“It’s hard just as a competitor, but I finally got to look back and it felt like six years ago, the beginning of the season,” he said. “But it’s fun to look back, see what we did, look at the whole picture of the season, see how much it helped into those early games, as well as the defense picking us up. When you’ve waited that long and finally got to do it over an extended period of time, not just one game, and what you learn from being that guy for five weeks, it’s different than just one game and stop. Now it’s getting the rhythm of being the starter, what you learn, what you didn’t do well. I definitely wanted to reflect on that.”

Backups’ careers are made in those moments. And Prescott has missed time due to injury in each of the past three seasons: 11 games in 2020 with a dislocated and fractured right ankle, one game in 2021 with a calf strain and five games in 2022 with the broken right thumb.

McCarthy said a big focus of the alterations on offense is about protecting Prescott better. He was sacked 20 times in 12 games in 2022, but the Cowboys were 28th in pass block win rate.

“My goal is for Dak to play 20 games next year,” McCarthy told reporters at the annual NFL league meeting. “If he plays 20 games next year, obviously we’ll be right where we want to be.”

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones told reporters at the owners meetings: “What we’re trying to do is make Dak more available, which if you look at the last three years, he needs to be more available. And everything we’re doing and feel good about in this offensive line should make him more available. We’re doing some things in the line, some technique and some philosophy that will really help Dak out.”

If Prescott is forced to miss time, then the Cowboys know they have somebody they can count on in Rush.

“The role obviously is great,” Rush said. “Then the team. You want to be on a good team, especially if you go in and play. You want guys on both sides of the ball to help you out. We have that in Dallas. And at the end of the day, we don’t have to move the whole family, all those things that are secondary. We love it in Dallas.”

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How Cooper Rush’s deal with Cowboys got done, and why it’s important – Dallas Cowboys Blog