The battle between Cooper Rush and Mike White for the Dallas Cowboys' backup quarterback job in 2019 has been going on all offseason, from meetings to OTAs and now into training camp. But as past years have shown us, nothing moves the needle like preseason games. How will tomorrow's opener against the 49ers, and the rest of the preseason, impact the backup QB competition?
This may simply comes down to which version of Cooper Rush shows up this preseason. Will it be the 2017 version, when an undrafted rookie put on a show that rivaled Dak Prescott's dazzling play a year earlier? Or will Rush have another disappointing run like last August, killing the hype and leaving many wondering if Dallas should sign a veteran backup?
If Cooper falters, can Mike White step up and take over the job? You'd like to think that a 5th-round pick, now in his second year, can at least challenge for the backup role. But we simply haven't seen enough of White to really know what he brings to the table.
What will be interesting to note in preseason games is not just how these guys play but also what opportunities the team gives them.
Any playing time is valuable, but so is getting to play with the right guys around you. Having guys like Joe Looney and Cam Fleming blocking in front of you is a better chance to succeed than if it's Adam Redmond and Mitch Hyatt. Throwing passes to Blake Jarwin is far better than Codey McElroy.
Back in May, new Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna said that there would be a “clean slate” for evaluating Rush and White as far as the backup role. Preseason play will be a major factor; seeing how these players execute when the pressure increases.
Even though Cooper has that one extra year of experience, it's somewhat mitigated by the changes on offense. Kellen Moore has replaced Scott Linehan as Offensive Coordinator, and Kitna was added to fill the vacated QB Coach job. Any changes to the offense, plus Kitna's added voice and preferences to the position, are new wrinkles for both Rush and White to work through.
Dallas has reason to root for Mike White in this competition. He has three years left on a cheap rookie deal, whereas Cooper Rush becomes a restricted free agent in 2020. Even the lowest projected RFA tender of $2.1 million would be roughly triple what White is projected to cost next year.
Of course, if Rush is clearly the better player then he's going to keep the job. It's not enough money to override superior skill and NFL readiness, but it certainly would be a tiebreaker if needed.
The Cowboys won't base their decision solely on these games. There are extenuating factors to performance, and all that these guys are doing in Oxnard and in other practices will be significant as well.
But these preseason games will get the engine going on the hype train. Hopefully the noise is for either Cooper Rush or Mike White's strong play, and not the clamoring for some other quarterback to replace them.