While the term “quarterback-driven league” is cliché, you can’t deny its accuracy for the NFL and really any form of football. Since the year 2000, only five Super Bowls have been won by guys who wouldn’t be universally considered as franchise QBs. The rest have all been gobbled up by the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Dallas Cowboys know all too well how the quarterback position affects success. The absence of Tony Romo sent the team plummeting to a 4-12 record in 2015. Last season, the arrival of Dak Prescott lifted the team to 13 wins and the expectation of ongoing contender status in future seasons.
So, with quarterback being clearly important, it’s worth discussing how the Cowboys will handle that position for the remainder of this offseason. Right now they have three guys under contract for 2017.
One of them is Dak Prescott. He’s pretty good.
Another is the recently re-signed Kellen Moore. He’s pretty short.
And then there’s Tony Romo, who only a faithful few still believe could be a Cowboy in 2017. Most of us logically assume that, whether it’s with a new team or with FOX Sports, Romo will have a new employer in the very near future.
Even if the Cowboys are content with just Prescott and Moore for their 2017 roster, they will still need a couple more passers to get them through training camp and the preseason. The questions now are about how much they want to invest in those other quarterbacks and if they want for Kellen Moore to have legitimate competition for the backup job.
We’re going to look at Moore, other veteran options, and the philosophy behind continuing to draft quarterback talent. The future will tell which direction Dallas goes.
This is going to sound cruel, but Kellen Moore’s leg injury may have been the best thing to happen for Dallas in 2016. It opened the door for Dak Prescott to be unchallenged as the number-two quarterback and eventually take over when Tony Romo went down. Moore’s presence would’ve robbed Prescott of valuable practice and preseason game time, perhaps even keeping him as the third QB on the depth chart.
While nobody thinks Moore would’ve come in and accomplished the things that Prescott did (unless you’re crazy), there is reason to think he could’ve had some success. During the tragic 2015 season, Kellen was the better performer over veterans Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. Unlike them, Moore had never started or even taken a regular season snap in the NFL.
The Cowboys were prepared to ride with Kellen Moore last year as their backup quarterback. By this September, Moore will have had two full off seasons here and loads of time working with Scott Linehan between Dallas and Detroit. Those are major considerations, not just for Moore’s ability to play but also the value he offers as an advisor to Dak Prescott.
Veteran Free Agents
If Dallas wants another veteran to compete with Kellen Moore then there are other free agent options available. Here are some of the bigger names on the market who might accept a backup role.
Recently released by the Eagles after they brought back Nick Foles, Daniel has spent four years in Doug Pederson’s offense between Philadelphia and Kansas City. Could he potentially bring some inside information to help the Cowboys defense against their NFC East rival?
Daniel has only thrown 78 passes over an eight-year career. He’s fairly unknown for such a long time in the NFL, sitting on the bench throughout his early days with New Orleans. Chase served as Drew Brees’ backup during the Saints’ Super Bowl Championship year but only played a handful of snaps in four seasons.
How much you like Daniel probably depends on how much you believe in the value of “inside info” from signing a rival team’s players. I’ve never believed it in much for many positions, but quarterback is one where I give it some credence. They are the players most tapped in to the strategy and philosophy of the coaches and would have the best insights, if any, to offer.
Robert Griffin III
There is no denying that Griffin, between his ongoing health problems and increasingly erratic play, isn’t a starting-caliber quarterback these days. However, the Cowboys would hopefully not be asking the former 2nd-overall pick to start anytime soon.
Before Dak Prescott last year, RG3 had the last phenomenal season for rookie quarterbacks. He looked ready to make Washington a contender for the next decade, but a major knee injury derailed him. Like they do with most things, Washington mismanaged Griffin’s return from injury and created a hostile environment between quarterback, coach, and owner.
You could make a case that Washington and Cleveland have been the two most poorly run teams in the NFL during Griffin’s career. How much did the stink of those organizations latch on to Griffin? How much did their dysfunction impact Griffin’s own approach to football?
Coming back home to Texas, where Griffin played his high school and college football, and being relieved of the pressure of carrying a team could be the best thing to help RG3 restore his career. Still just 27-years-old, the former Heisman Trophy winner and Rookie of the Year may be hiding somewhere underneath the baggage.
There’s only one quarterback available who once led a team to the Super Bowl. That means we have to talk about Kaepernick, no matter how far his stock has fallen since.
After starting his career with two other trips to the NFC Championship Game along with the one Super Bowl appearance, Kaepernick seemed poised for greatness. Things clearly fell apart in San Francisco, though, and seemingly in large part because Colin himself lost his footing.
There’s no debating that Colin Kaepernick has the most talent of any available free agent. However, all of the political and P.R. baggage that comes with him after 2016 is clearly more than most teams want to deal with. That’s why he’s still unsigned and hasn’t generated hardly any buzz since free agency began.
Kaepernick probably isn’t ready to accept a bench position or the massive pay cut that comes with it, but $3 million is better than no million.
As was already mentioned with RG3, there’s a certain logic behind having a backup who can do some of the same things as your starter. Kaepernick is even more athletic than Dak Prescott and would step into an offense that has more talent than any he ever worked with in San Francisco.
However, would the Dallas fan base accept a player with Kaepernick’s political views and actions? Would his recent protests during the National Anthem, even if he no longer practices, make him unwelcome on “America’s Team?”
The NFL Draft
After striking oil with Dak Prescott in last year’s draft, it’s easy to assume that Dallas won’t be spending any picks on quarterbacks for a while. That would be in keeping with their history; the Cowboys have only drafted three QBs over the last 25 years (Prescott, Stephen McGee, and Quincy Carter).
However, a lot has changed recently in the way the Cowboys are managed. Jerry Jones defers more and more to his son, Stephen, and front office ace Will McClay. Jason Garrett has a major influence in personnel decisions. Given this new power structure, it’s hard to use history for much substantive analysis.
Whether by coincidence or goal, we’ve seen the Cowboys starting to follow more of the philosophies of the New England Patriots. We’ve seen this in a much stricter handling of the salary cap; avoiding lavish free agents spending and playing more hardball with your existing talent. Perhaps we will see similar logic used when it comes to the draft as well.
One thing that the Patriots have done throughout the Tom Brady Era is continue to draft mid and late-round quarterbacks. Even in 2002, the summer after Brady’s meteoric rise to fame, New England spent a fourth-round pick on Rohan Davey.
The best case scenario is what happened with Matt Cassel in New England. After he came in for Brady in 2008 and kept them as a playoff contender, the Patriots made him part of a trade that got them the 34th overall pick in the following draft. This offseason there’s been plenty of talk of them doing something similar with Jimmy Garoppolo.
If Tony Romo was several years younger, the Cowboys’ 2016 season might’ve been similar. Imagine if Romo was seen as being here for another five years or so. Dallas could be trading Dak Prescott somewhere right now for a first-round pick, perhaps even one of the top five picks in the upcoming draft.
The point is that quarterbacks can quickly becomes valuable commodities, sometimes even off of a single great game. Look at what happened to Matt Flynn after just one big night for the Packers; several teams looked at him as a potential starter for the next few seasons. Keeping a pipeline of young, talented passers could give you opportunities to acquire future picks.
Plus, if nothing else, it ideally keeps more talented players ready in case something bad happens to your starter. I’m not saying any of them could be “the next Dak Prescott,” but isn’t that worth trying to find every now and then? The potential return on your investment is far more than any other position offers.
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Whether it’s free agency or the draft, the Cowboys certainly have options for increasing their present and future strength at the quarterback position. History says they may take the minimalist approach and just roll with Dak Prescott and Kellen Moore, but this is a new era of team management and philosophy in Dallas. How they handle the remainder of the offseason may show even more strategic changes.
No matter what else happens, the presence of Dak Prescott alleviates many concerns. While the “sophomore slump” is a real thing, Prescott has already displayed the mentality and presence of a seasoned veteran. He appears as well-equipped to avoid that second-year decline as you could hope for.
It’s what goes on below Prescott on the QB depth chart that is now the focus. After the last few years, no team should appreciate the value of quality backup quarterbacks more than the Dallas Cowboys. It’s been the difference between fruition and futility.