Free agency is slowly winding down and the modus operandi going forward is to pick up players that can help your team at bargain-basement prices. The Cowboys still could sign a player or two, but much of the emphasis is shifting toward the late-April draft. With that in mind, I'm going to do a series of articles that examine the Cowboys' roster and try to divine some method to the madness that is the NFL draft, specifically what Dallas may be thinking in the run-up to the draft.
The logical place to start is with QB, since that is always the focal point of any NFL team.
The Cowboys have three QB's on the current roster (including the practice squad).
Starter - Tony Romo
Tony Romo enters the 2007 season as the starting QB. After replacing Drew Bledsoe halfway through last year's season, Romo is expected to lead the Cowboys for years to come. However, he can't be considered a sure-thing yet. While he's been on the team for four years, he's only started 11 games in the NFL and his performance in those games offered tantalizing promise mixed with agonizing mistakes. Given that, the Cowboys are betting that with more experience Romo will become the franchise QB.
Romo signed a two-year contract previous to last season, so he is in a contract year. More importantly, Romo finally will be the #1 QB entering a training camp and will be the guy taking the majority of the snaps in practices. Romo's first five games last year were so extraordinary that he beguiled the football world and led to a rash of "Romomania" - of which I admit my own culpability. The end of the season, though, reminded all of us that he's still got room for improvement. Only Bill Parcells seemed to realize this when he chided the football public about their proclamations of greatness for Romo. "Put away the anointing oil" turned out to be a very prophetic statement. Still, Romo brings an excitement and anticipation at the QB position not felt in Dallas since the retirement of Troy Aikman.
Romo has the intangible gift of being a leader, the kind of guy that other players gravitate to and follow willingly. His closest cousin in the NFL is also the guy he patterned his game after, Brett Favre. They share many of the same characteristics such as an unbridled love of the game that reveals itself in on-the-field emotion. He also shares the gambler instinct with Favre; he can make plays out of situations that look to be major disasters. But this is also where a QB can get into trouble, sometimes it's smarter to throw the ball away or take a sack as opposed to exposing the ball to a potential turnover. One of Romo's major challenges this season is to recognize when to gamble and when to play it safe.
Physically, Romo has an good arm. It's not the cannon-arm that Bledsoe had, but it's good enough that the Cowboys can count on him to make any throw in the playbook. He shows good mobility and the ability to throw while moving in the pocket. He has a quick release that allows him to let plays develop and wait until the last moment to make his decision. But ball security is the major knock against him so far; he can be careless while holding the ball in the pocket leading to fumbles. He also tends to start games slowly; his throws can be off-target in the early stages of games, leading to missed opportunities and interceptions. He balances this out with an uncanny ability to put his team in position to win at the end of games, although the 2006 edition of the Cowboys didn't always capitalize. Sometimes it was his own fault, other times, his teammates let him down.
Reserves - Brad Johnson, Matt Baker
Brad Johnson is the primary backup, brought in as a free agent this offseason. Johnson is a "bus driver" QB - to use a throwback term associated with former coach Bill Parcells. He's not going to single-handedly will a team to victory, but instead will play it safe and let those around him perform the heavy lifting. He is experienced insurance for a stretch of games if Romo is injured.
Matt Baker is a project. One that may or may not last, depending on the draft.
Jerry Jones has already stated his intention to consider drafting a QB sometime from the 3rd round on. Given Tony Romo's relative inexperience and contract situation, Brad Johnson's age, and Matt Baker's tenuous grip on a roster spot, the Cowboys will probably draft a QB in the later rounds.
Now the floor is open for discussion. I'm looking for opinions on QB's that may be available in the later rounds that could tempt the Cowboys.