Last night, the Dallas Cowboys interrupted dinner and TV binging with the surprising signing of free agent Quarterback Andy Dalton. What does adding the three-time Pro Bowler mean for Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, and the rest of the Cowboys’ QB room?
You can click here to read more about the details of the signing itself. But for today, let’s really dive in to the impact on the existing players.
There’s no denying the superficial intrigue behind this move as it relates to Dak Prescott and his ongoing contract negotiations. After all, Dalton has started 133 games and the Bengals have made the playoffs five times since he became the starting QB.
But any notion that Andy was brought in to compete with or threaten Dak, or even gives the Cowboys more leverage in contract talks, isn’t that insightful.
For one, Dalton’s last Pro Bowl was in 2016 and his last playoff appearance was in 2015. While it may be more indicative of Cincinnati’s overall decline than his own, it isn’t like Andy’s been too successful in a while.
Even at his best, Andy Dalton has never been seen as one of the league’s top passers. He’s more of a high-level game manager; he can win if all of the circumstances are just right.
Still, Dalton never got them a single playoff win in his four attempts. He missed the 2015 game due to injury.
For a Dallas Cowboys team that has loaded up to compete for a Super Bowl, resting such hopes on Andy Dalton would be far less than ideal.
Signing Dalton is about the backup position, not the starting one. It’s the Cowboys getting back to a longstanding strategy of putting experienced veterans behind their franchise QB.
We saw this for years with Tony Romo. From Brad Johnson to Jon Kitna to Kyle Orton, there was a guy with starting experience behind Romo at nearly all times during his run with the Cowboys.
The practice actually goes back as far as Jerry Jones has owned the team. With Troy Aikman as the unquestioned starter in the 90s, Dallas staffed the backup role with players like Steve Beuerlein, Rodney Peete, and even Randall Cunningham at times.
Dak Prescott enjoyed this in his rookie season, albeit not by design. While Tony Romo was around and provided support at times, Prescott’s primary confidant was 3rd-stringer Mark Sanchez.
While he may be a punchline today, Sanchez’s experience as a rookie with high expectations and an immediate starting role were more relatable to Prescott. Romo didn’t become a starter until midway through his fourth season.
Since then Dallas has been less judicious about the backup QB position. In 2017 it was Kellen Moore, who only had two career starts at that point during garbage. Partway through that year, undrafted rookie Cooper Rush took over.
Rush has held the job ever since, though he hasn’t even attempted a pass since 2017. Cooper’s only played during a couple of blowouts, actually throwing the ball just three times in as many seasons.
So no, signing Andy Dalton isn’t about Dak Prescott. It’s about Cooper Rush and the backup spot.
If Dallas wanted to put real heat on Dak then they could’ve gone after Cam Newton or even Jameis Winston. They also could’ve drafted someone higher than the 7th Round of last week’s NFL Draft.
Even if the Cowboys can’t get a long-term contract agreement with Prescott this offseason, the franchise tag should secure his services for 2020. Dallas sees itself as a Super Bowl contender with the arrival of Mike McCarthy and their other offseason business.
While Dak’s been highly durable for the last four years, eventually even the sturdiest guys have that one bad hit. The Cowboys don’t want to see their season derailed if misfortune finally finds Prescott.
Andy Dalton provides added insurance for postseason hopes. His $3 million in guaranteed money is only a slight bump from the $2.1 million that Cooper Rush was going to get this year.
The real question now is what the Cowboys do with Cooper. They can afford to carry both Dalton and Rush through training camp but it’s highly unlikely both would make it to the active roster.
Dallas also has two young prospects in the stable in Clayton Thorson, a 2019 5th-Round pick, and newly-drafted Ben DiNucci.
Five quarterbacks seems a bit much for any camp. You need to be able to give each guy enough time to even make it worth having them; four tends to be the ideal number.
Dallas could easily just dump Thorson now and then let Rush fight for his job this summer. But with Andy Dalton clearly coming in as the new number two, perhaps they will cut Cooper now and let him find a real backup opportunity elsewhere.
So yes, the signing of Andy Dalton was a big post-draft move for the Dallas Cowboys. It shows a return to the “veteran backup” philosophy and really heralds Dak Prescott as the franchsie QB, based on the organization’s history.
For Cooper Rush, unfortunately, it means his NFL journey will likely have to continue with a new team.