Is Cowboys Backup Quarterback Kyle Orton On His Way Out?

Brian Bahr

Dallas' backup quarterback is still a no show.

At a time when optimism is the order of the day, there was one sour note that came out of the Dallas Cowboys' first day of rookie minicamp.

The strange situation with Tony Romo's backup continues. Kyle Orton has not taken part in any voluntary work with the team this year, and the Cowboys are a team that puts a lot of weight on players showing up. All statements about Orton's status are met with bland comments that the staff expects him to be there for the mandatory activities.

Forgive me, but I have my doubts. (And I have company.) I have not had a good feeling about Orton's future with the Cowboys since the first reports that he had mentioned retirement during his exit physical after the season. The team was quick to issue denials about that, but that looked like nothing more than trying to control the information flow, a real obsession of Jason Garrett's. Word of Orton not attending the workouts just seemed to confirm that the staff was keeping the real situation out of sight.

I recalled a statement Orton made right after he signed his contract with the Cowboys. He made remarks to the effect that he had been thrown straight into the league and as a result had gotten shortchanged on the coaching he felt he should have had.

Well, he has had two years of coaching and learning without the pressures of being the starting quarterback. That makes me think that this is not really about Orton wanting to retire.

I think it is about him wanting to go somewhere he has a chance to become the starter.

He got that taste again in the last game of the season, and even though it ended badly for him, he was having a pretty good game up until the late interception. He had been through a week of being the man. All plans were focused on him. The plays were lined up with him in mind. The media was covering him. He was the star on the field. And he was not standing on the sideline with a clipboard.

It's hard to go back to being the understudy once you have been out there in the bright lights. All the drama and craziness of the Tim Tebow disaster in Denver are over and probably have faded a bit in his mind. Besides, as long as he doesn't go to Cleveland or St. Louis, he should be able to stay clear of that kind of media/fan mania.

I think he wants a new team, and I think Dallas' coaching staff and front office are well aware of it. The problem is that it puts the Cowboys in a bad situation. They now have to worry about what they will do to back Romo up, as well as trying to figure out the cap situation. Orton clearly belongs in the "Better than Brandon Weeden" column on the depth chart. They restructured him in 2013, and he represents $3,382,500 in dead money for 2014.

It is doubtful that the Cowboys just want to turn him loose. They would probably like to get something back for him, like a draft pick. But it is not easy to find teams that want to give up much for a player now. In any event, nothing would be likely to happen until June 1. Cutting him before that would just push the cost up.

Could the Cowboys force Orton to stick around and honor his contract, the way they did with Bill Callahan? Yes, but it is a somewhat scary idea. Callahan is a coach, who is not really in a position to do anything that would make it harder for Dallas to win. I would shudder at the idea of sending a guy out to lead my team if I was uncertain about his desire to win. I know they are professional players, but how much can you really expect from someone whose heart isn't in it, and who knows how badly he can get hurt out there. Given that the only likely scenario for Orton to play would be in relief of an injured Romo, that last fact would no doubt be heavy on his mind.

The biggest problem may simply be one of timing. With the draft just over, most teams that were in need of a quarterback have a nice, shiny new one to play with. And in the time-honored tradition of the NFL, they all are hopeful that the new guy is going to be the solution for them. It is going to take a while for the teams whose quarterbacks aren't ready to face that reality. Based on history, most of the teams with draftee quarterbacks are not going to have the winner they wanted to get.

This is when Orton would become somewhat more attractive. An experienced starter with one year remaining on his deal is just what a team could use if it needs a year to bring that new kid along. The Cowboys could just be waiting to see if some offers start to come in. I think they will gladly trade Orton off for a decent price.

That leaves the question of what to do if no such offer comes in. It may leave Dallas with having to rely on him even though he doesn't want to be there. It is too expensive to Orton for him to seriously consider actually retiring. And if he does want to play past 2014, it would not be wise to be seen as the guy sulking and refusing to help his team.

Eventually, I think Orton will leave the Cowboys sometime before or during the 2014 season. The team will assure him they are trying to move him, and at some point in the season, a team is going to need a starter stat. Of course Dallas is not going to publicly state they are shopping him. First off, that is just not how they do things. And second, it somewhat weakens their position. So don't expect anything to come out of Dallas about this until a trade actually happens.

It's all speculative, of course, but it fits what is happening. I may be wrong, but I think Kyle Orton will be wearing another team's uniform before the end of this season.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB
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