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Could Salary Cap Force Cowboys to Gamble at Backup QB?

You’re probably as sick of hearing about the reduced salary cap in 2021 as I am of writing about it. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that clouds everything about the current offseason for all NFL teams. Today, I thought we’d look at how this decreased spending power could for the Dallas Cowboys to take a big risk with their backup quarterback.

Last year the Cowboys went high security at QB by signing veteran Andy Dalton to back up Dak Prescott. Even though Cooper Rush had held the job for nearly three seasons, Dallas decided to upgrade with Dalton’s talent and experience.

Had the rest of the roster not been falling apart due to injuries and bad coaching hires, Dalton’s presence just might have saved the season when Prescott got injured in Week 5. A more solvent Cowboys team overall, even with Dalton at the helm, likely wins the NFC East in 2020 and possibly fares better against the Tampa Bay Bucs than Washington did.

From there, who knows?

With 2021 free agency just 10 days away and Dalton’s one-year contract expiring, the backup quarterback position is again a concern for the Cowboys. Now you also have Dak Prescott coming off a major season-ending injury and putting even more onus on having a solid player behind him.

Unfortunately, spending a few million on that spot may not be as easy as it used to be. The the projected reduction in the salary cap and Dak’s contract still to figure out, the Cowboys may have to look to their cheaper in-house options over re-signing Andy Dalton or bringing in some other experienced veteran.

Dallas may very well have to let Ben DiNucci, Garrett Gilbert, and Cooper Rush battle it out for the backup job.

Cowboys QBs Ben DINucci, Garrett Gilbert, and Cooper Rush

Last season we saw one full game each out of DiNucci and Gilbert when Dalton was injured. Rush, after leaving the Cowboys to join the Giants, was re-signed in the middle of the year and never got on the field.

These three players’ combined salaries for 2021 are a little less than the $3 million that Dalton made last year. The Cowboys can stand to save at least $2 million or more by going with one of them over the general cost of a proven, veteran backup.

We have very little to go on with any of these passers as far as their true value. One good day from Gilbert against the Steelers, a bad day from DiNucci against the Eagles, and still having never seen Rush in a real game; who knows what any of these guys really are?

There’s at least some hope that, in an open competition, one competent backup would emerge. Gilbert and Rush both have several years of experience in NFL systems, plus Gilbert was a standout passer in the short-lived AAF. And while he struggled in his first NFL start as a rookie, DiNucci may still have potential to unlock in his second year.

But “hope” is a dangerous word and especially at your most important position. Whether it was Steve Beuerlein in 1991, Tony Romo in 2006, or Dak Prescott in 2016, the Cowboys know the value of having a strong backup QB who can still get the team to the playoffs.

Maybe DiNucci, Gilbert, or Rush can be that player in 2021. And of course, the real hope is that we never have to see any of them take a meaningful snap in a game.

But unless the Cowboys are able to create more wiggle room under the salary cap this year, investing in a proven passer for depth may not be possible. Finances could force Dallas to gamble on one of their developmental prospects as Prescott’s primary backup in 2021.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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  1. So weird GG gets almost no love despite playing extremely well vs Pittsburgh, his only 2020 PT. Face it, we ain’t winning squat with a back up. . . we were 2-3 with Dak as a starter.. If I’m Dallas, I hire the best QB trainer they can find, always have a 3rd qb in development and do what GB used to do, trade them for draft capital.

    But I’m fine with GG (not that anyone asked)

  2. Any team that has a quality back up QB increases their chances of making the post season significantly! This usually is a guy that has been in the league as a starter before. There again if you sell the farm by paying two or three players what their screaming to get them all the other positions suffer and in return your whole team will suffer!

  3. From what we saw last year, I would give Garret Gilbert the back up QB role. But again, I have very limited vision on what each one, really is. Interesting to see how it plays out. I had a chance to look at Gilbert while he played for SMU. He took them on a deep drive down their season and played really well.

  4. I would feel a lot better with an AD but if not I would rather have Gilbert than a Cooper Rush! We’ve seen what he can do and there is just no Wow factor with him! I thought Gilbert looked good also against Pittsburgh but I would like to see him in a few more games before making a solid evaluation on him!

  5. Dak is a possibility, not knowing his probability make his value less in reality. He may be the same level of workability or worse. He will not be as good as he was at the start of his season in 2020. With Jones, money is money, and he expects an crease in production. It may be time to consider letting Dak move on to another team and back it up with a group of better players in defense and start off with new Quarter Back in their training.

  6. We ain’t getting Dalton back CF Ed , he showcased that if you put players around him , he can at least be a very serviceable QB or be a bridge QB for rookie QBs coming into the league i.e. Tyrod Taylor with Herbert and Chargers ,

    It’s important all the more so now to have backup QB who can come in and be productive , at least to where he isn’t hurting your team in games , Covid probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon with the unknown of a different strain and if the vaccine can protect ppl from that strain as well , if Dak or any starting QB were to get it , they’d have to stay out for at least 2 weeks from getting it , so there’s the possibility of missing 2 straight games , which could be critical in deciding if you’re gonna be in the playoffs or not

    I think if there’s a way we can get Alex Smith , i’d go that route for backup , though , i’m not opposed to staying with Gilbert , he showed guts in that Pitt game , it’s just with lack of experience , i’d be kind of worried having him be the decider of how my season ends where as Smith showed he can still play , at least to being able to manage games ,

    i’d go with Smith but i’d be fine seeing Gilbert be our backup

  7. I like the thought of adding AS! He is battle tested and would be a good back up if Dak were to go down!

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