Over the course of the NFL offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have made four major moves at the quarterback position. First, Tony Romo had back surgery to repair a herniated disc (in December, technically before the offseason). Then Kyle Orton said he’s thinking about retiring, which led the Cowboys to sign Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie. It appears obvious the team is preparing for life without Orton, but the latest speculation is Dallas might be preparing for bigger, more long-term moves under center.
Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, we’re not here to talk non-sensible rumors or anything of that nature. RantSports’ Andrew Fisher said it best on Wednesday in response to the rumors the Cowboys could take Johnny Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft: Johnny Football to the Cowboys is a terrible short-term idea. It’s easy to take that a step further and say it’s a terrible idea in general, but you get the picture.
If the Cowboys want to draft a quarterback this year as a project to develop over the final few years of Romo’s deal (he won’t play through the 2019 season), that’s not a terrible idea if — and only if — that pick is spent on the third day of the draft (David Fales would be perfect in that scenario). Jerry Jones is all about winning “now” and the only way to do that is to fill holes with early draft picks, which means the Cowboys should only use their first-round pick on a defensive lineman, not a quarterback, and especially not a quarterback who will never succeed in the NFL.
The current backup situation is sticky because no one actually knows whether or not Orton is going to play this year except him. He’ll have to pay back his signing bonus if he doesn’t go through the offseason program and training camp, so one would think he would at least stick around through August to avoid that, but there’s still no way of knowing if he’ll retire until that point.
Of course, Cowboys fans definitely don’t feel safe with Weeden and Hanie as the backup options and the team sure doesn’t want to keep more than two signal-callers on the roster, although that’s going to be a lot harder this year with Romo’s health still somewhat up in the air.
In addition, Dallas will sign at least one more quarterback to compete with Weeden and Hanie, whether it’s another young castaway veteran or an undrafted rookie (again, Fales comes to mind if he’s not drafted). Whether that’s a good or bad thing is another story, but it’s going to happen, and the uncertainty surrounding these players’ futures with the team will remain until Romo gets on the field in pads and shows he can still play at the level he did before the injury.
Assuming Romo comes back healthy and Orton retires before Week 1, the Cowboys will enter the 2014 NFL season with Weeden, Hanie or another young passer as their primary backup quarterback. That’s certainly not what Dallas fans want to hear, but that’s the reality. This team absolutely cannot afford to waste an early draft pick on a quarterback when Romo still has six years left on his deal and he’s owed more than $100 million over that span. When your team has a clueless general manager like Jones constantly backloading contracts, the result is one backup quarterback, and if there are no viable, inexpensive options available, then you get a guy like Weeden or Hanie holding the clipboard.
In the short-term, that’s not nearly as scary as it seems; Weeden was in a no-win situation with the Cleveland Browns and he will undoubtedly improve as a quarterback in Dallas while Hanie is really there just for camp competition. In the long-term, the Cowboys can continue to explore cap-friendly options while deciding what do to about Romo’s contract and successor down the road, assuming he’s healthy.