For the past two seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have known that they had an experienced NFL starter to fill in for Tony Romo at quarterback. Kyle Orton was considered solid enough that the team did not carry a third quarterback on the roster unless Romo was not available, as happened in the last game last season, when the team brought Jon Kitna out of retirement for a one game return to the NFL. But now, Orton is contemplating retirement, and the quarterback position may suddenly be one of some urgency in free agency and the draft.
According to vice president Stephen Jones and several other team sources, Orton has talked about walking away and the Cowboys don't know his status for 2014.
"No I don't know [that he is coming back]," Jones said. "But I haven't gone and asked him."
Jones said he might or might not talk to Orton's agent this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he will know for sure about Orton's status before free agency begins March 11.
Suddenly, an interview with Johnny Manziel seems to have more of a point to it than we used to think.
However, barring some kind of strange meltdown before the draft, Manziel, along with Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, are out of the Cowboys' reach. (You hear me, Jerry Jones? Out. Of. Reach. No Dan-Snyder-trading-away-the-future-for-a-top-five-pick tricks, please.)
But that leaves a lot of possibilities for the Cowboys in the draft. The team may want to find another veteran backup so as not to depend on a draftee as the next man up, but this seems a perfect opportunity to draft a quarterback. And there are several options that may have the skills to grow into an NFL starter with a year or two of work.
As KD Drummond and Joey Ickes discussed in the latest Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast, it does not make sense to draft someone just to get a backup. With Romo's age and recent history of back injuries/problems, the team should look at the current crop of quarterbacks coming out of college to try and find someone who might replace Romo one day. It seems much better to get someone in the system now when the team can see if his ceiling is high enough to become the starter before they have to put the weight of the team on his shoulders. If not, then they can look again next season, and they may still have a long term backup who can cover for a few games. It was mentioned in an SBN discussion I read earlier that Green Bay took Aaron Rodgers while Brett Favre was still the starter. I think that is a much better model for the Cowboys to follow than waiting until they have no quarterback and earn one of the top spots in the draft.
This may be a very good year. There are several intriguing prospects outside the top three for Dallas to consider.
The one who almost made it. Derek Carr of Fresno State was at one time considered the fourth surefire first-round pick. But his stock fell after the Senior Bowl. Of course, that is the stock with people who do mock drafts and report on the league, and may not reflect what all teams think about him. He has a chance to impress at the combine, and may fit that category of someone with the tools but needing a year or two of coaching to be ready for the bigs.
The domesticated feline. Someone else here has a very fond view of Jimmy Garoppolo. KD is allowed to have pet, um, critters. I am not. So I will just cite Mr. Drummond in his belief that Garoppolo can follow in Romo's footsteps again, and become the quarterback of the future. If it were to happen, Jerry Jones just might have to start making some donations to Eastern Illinois, where Garoppolo has already shown he is a worthy heir to Romo.
The injured SEC studs. Georgia's Aaron Murray and LSU's Zach Mettenberger both were seen as possible top-of- the-draft quarterbacks before they were injured. Both seem to have suffered one time injuries, rather than being injury prone, and were playing against some stout defenses.
The dark horse out west. One name that has intrigued me (but never, ever attained anything remotely resembling the status Garoppolo has with KD, just to be perfectly clear) is Brett Smith of Wyoming. I was quite disappointed when he did not receive an invitation to the Combine, and several national media types were just as puzzled as I was over the reasoning. He is 6'2", 206 lbs, and here is CBSSports' Dane Brugler's take on him.
Smith, who is reminiscent of a more controlled version of Johnny Manziel, is a better athlete than given credit with deceiving mobility and very quick feet to be elusive in the pocket and avoid pressure. He has good-enough height and has worked hard to bulk up his frame, spending considerable time in the weight room.
Smith scans the field quickly, works through his reads and does an excellent job recognizing soft spots in coverage pre-snap. He is a gutsy competitor who plays the game of football with a chip on his shoulder and he'll win over NFL coaches with his attitude, work ethic and overall football passion. Smith is extremely confident, but almost to a fault as he tests small passing windows too often, throwing into tight coverage and hoping for a positive play. He has good enough arm strength for the next level, but lacks elite velocity especially when he can't step into his throws. Smith can get jumpy and skittish in the pocket and needs to get his footwork under control. He is a high-completion passer, but his accuracy will dip when throwing on the run.
Now, tell me if that is not reminiscent (outside the Manziel comment) of another 6'2" quarterback you may have seen wearing the Star in recent years?
Personally, I think there is a quarterback in this bunch, or perhaps lurking somewhere else in the draft pool, that could be an excellent pick for Dallas. The question becomes when? Quarterbacks do tend to get taken early, of course, so trying to figure out where to take one becomes a variation of chicken, where a team has to consider how long they can wait without risking having the target snatched by someone else.
I realistically would think the team would be looking at the third round at the earliest to try to get a quarterback. If I were calling the shots, I would take a long, hard look at Smith, because he likely will be available on day three of the draft. If he fits the description Brugler gave him, I think he is worth a fourth-round pick. Of course, you have to hope someone doesn't beat you to him.
I don't think the Cowboys can afford to go with just a veteran backup if Orton leaves. First off, the odds of finding someone who could do as good a job as Orton are not good, and Orton was not good enough to get the Cowboys into the playoffs. (Which is not entirely fair, of course, because there were a lot of other things that went wrong before he threw the late interception that ended the season.) But more importantly, I don't think it would be wise to put off trying to find the next starter another year. The opportunity is now, even if Orton does decide to play out the last year of his contract. This can be a good prompt for the team to get of the schneid.. There are some interesting options. Romo and his back are not going to last forever.