Cowboys 2013 Roster Cuts: The Alex Tanney Conundrum

Ronald Martinez

With the first cuts looming, the Dallas Cowboys are not only looking at what players to keep, but how to allocate the positions on the 53-man roster. What a few weeks looked like a simple decision at quarterback is being made more complicated by the emergence of Alex Tanney as a possible developmental player.

A month ago, I was fairly certain I knew how the quarterback position would shake out for the Cowboys when they got down to the 53 man roster. Tony Romo and Kyle Orton would be on the team as the starter and backup, just like they were in 2012, and the team would likely keep Nick Stephens around on the practice squad for scout team work and as a disaster option. This new guy they signed for camp was just there to spread out the reps and maybe, but not likely, to get a look for the PS.

Apparently, I forgot to send Alex Tanney a copy of my script. After four pre-season games, Tanney has rudely shoved Stephens aside and staked out the number three slot. It seems likely the Cowboys will have him play the entire final pre-season game against the Houston Texans as a kind of audition. In the minds of many, Tanney has forced the team to rethink whether or not they need to use one of the final roster spots for a developmental quarterback.

There was a great debate about this conducted on Friday via Twitter by two of my favorite football minds, @KD10for10 (K.D. Drummond) and @JickesBTB (Joey Ickes, like you couldn't figure that one out). K.D. is convinced the Cowboys are going to put Tanney on the 53, while Joey is still expecting the team to try and put him on the practice squad.

Up until I read through their exchange, I was pretty much like Joey, but after looking at both of their arguments, I now find myself perched on the fence here. I still am not sure the team could not get better use out of a roster spot than a quarterback who will almost certainly never see the field, but I also am not confident that the team could sneak Tanney onto the PS.

The issue here is that Dallas looks to be in very good shape for a primary backup, with Orton bouncing back nicely from his really bad performance against the Arizona Cardinals (and it must be admitted that he was hardly alone), but he is also pretty much just that, a backup, with a contract that makes him expendable after the 2014 season. With only him and Romo on the roster, there is nothing to develop for the future. Even if the Cowboys would go into the draft following the 2014 season looking to find a possible successor to Romo, they might also want to have some kind of developmental player as a fallback option. You know, the kind of player Stephen McGee was supposed to be, but never became.

Tanney is intriguing for the team largely because of the contrast between him and McGee, or Captain Checkdown as he came to be known. Unlike McGee, Tanney does not look as if the game is too big for him. And it seems clear that the Cowboys also see something like that, given the way Stephens was shouldered aside the past couple of pre-season games to give Tanney more time on the field.

But some caution must be maintained. While Tanney has looked like a real, live NFL quarterback out there, he has not been anything spectacular. Look at his stats from the pre-season so far.

Game Comp Att Yards TD Int Rating
MIA 5 11 58 0 0 61.9
OAK 1 6 8 0 0 39.6
ARI 14 19 136 1 1 88.9
CIN 3 6 44 0 0 74.3

He's actually kind of pedestrian. Competent looking, with an unknown ceiling, but one he has certainly not reached. Someone the team should try to keep around to work with. After all, Dallas does have a rather unique record with undrafted quarterbacks from small schools. But why should he not be placed on the practice squad, a much less costly option that also frees up one of those precious roster spots?

Well, part of the problem is that there is a dearth of quality backup quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Vince Young is getting a serious look from the Green Bay Packers, and apparently the Buffalo Bills are going to sign Matt Leinart. With continuing developments like Mark Sanchez getting banged up a bit in his last pre-season game, the search for backup talent is likely to remain pretty active.

This makes any move to get Tanney to the practice squad a bit of a risk. Much like the risk the Cowboys took with Matt Moore. The quarterback you may have seen playing for the Dolphins in the Hall of Fame game. A player that has had 25 starts in the NFL since he was plucked from the Cowboys in 2007 by the Carolina Panthers. If Moore had been with the Cowboys, they would likely not have gone through the whole Magee experiment. Moore might well have moved on by now, seeking a team he might be able to start with, but he is clearly an example of the perils of waiving someone you really want to keep in the organization. There is no way to know if any other teams have Tanney on their radar - just like the Cowboys did not expect Moore to show up for the Panthers and get claimed.

If Tanney was a sure bet to become a future NFL starter, or even a reliable backup, it would be an easy call. The obvious problem is that he is nothing more than a maybe, and as fans, we really don't know how strong a maybe that is. With the limitations of the 53-man roster and the rules governing the practice squad, whatever you do with Tanney comes with risks and trade-offs. It seems very likely that this decision will not be made until the staff sits down and studies the video from the Texans game. The question is not whether the team would like to keep him around to work on his game this season, because I think that is already answered in the affirmative. The choice facing the team is to invest a roster spot in him, which has no guarantee of paying off, or waiving him and waiting nervously until the twenty-four hours us up to sign him to the practice squad, which means you might never see him again in a Cowboys uniform.

If it was up to me, I'd tell you to ask me again after the last pre-season game. But if I was forced to make a call right now, I'd swallow hard and plan to waive him, with my fingers crossed, and my hands aching from all the wood I would have knocked on, really, really hoping he makes it through waivers and can be signed to the practice squad. And I say that with absolutely no confidence whatsoever. I am probably going to change my mind a half dozen times before we find out what the team will actually do. At the moment, I just think his value to the team is too uncertain to spend that roster spot on. At the moment.

Whatever they do, I hope it works out. I want to see what else Tanney can do.

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