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Dallas Cowboys Headscratcher: What To Do About The Third QB?

Stephen McGee isn't competing with Kyle Orton - but may lose his job to him anyway.
Stephen McGee isn't competing with Kyle Orton - but may lose his job to him anyway.

I decided I wanted to write this article first. I really did. Before I saw two articles posted on the interwebs yesterday, dealing with the same exact topic. It's good, in a way, to have some handy sources to quote in my article, especially when they basically back up the conclusions I came to on my own. So I welcome Nick Eatman's piece on But the other article I find myself agreeing with is on ESPN Dallas - written by Calvin Watkins.

The question concerns whether the Dallas Cowboys are seriously considering going with only two quarterbacks this year. It is not something the team has done, at least in recent history, and it is not the way most NFL teams approach a season. There are times teams find themselves needing that third quarterback. Dallas found itself in that situation last year when Jon Kitna was unavailable due to injury and Tony Romo banged his hand on a helmet, putting Stephen McGee into the game. The Houston Texans also wound up going to their third stringer, and they were in the middle of the push to make their first playoff appearance. Just to refresh your mind, Matt Schaub (who was having a great season) went down with injury, and then Matt Leinart, with a chance to finally prove himself as an NFL quarterback, was injured in his first start. The team had to make its playoff bid with unheralded fifth-round rookie T J Yates at the helm.

Related: Cowboys Offseason Headscratcher: Will The Backup OLBs See More Snaps In 2012?

So there is an element of risk involved in going with the two quarterback approach. But there are also clear advantages that the team can capitalize on. And risks can be managed and minimized.

Read what else I have to say, and take the poll. Or take the poll anyway.

This would probably not even be a topic for serious discussion except for one thing: The Cowboys signed Kyle Orton to replace Kitna. The consensus around the league is that Orton is the NFL's best backup quarterback. HIs signing was sufficient for Lance Kerwin at to rank the Cowboys as having the fourth best depth in the league, largely on the presence of Orton.

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Kyle Orton may be the best backup quarterback in the NFL and Dallas always puts a premium on that position. Heck, the head coach was a Dallas backup quarterback. Orton alone has to put the Cowboys in the top five teams.

This puts the team in a new position. As far as his record, Orton is not a huge improvement over Jon Kitna, who proved that he was a capable backup in 2010. Orton's career QB rating is 79.4, only slightly better than Kitna's 77.4. What Orton does give them is comparative youth and improved mobility. Additionally, Kitna was clearly not going to improve. Orton has specifically mentioned the chance to actually learn from another quarterback, something he never really had before, as a reason for him to choose Dallas rather than contending for another starting job after he was swept out of Denver by the peculiar hysteria that accompanied Tim Tebow. I think he plans to get better.

With a more survivable quarterback in Orton and a tough and mobile competitor in in Romo, the team has a somewhat reduced risk of having to rely on a third quarterback. It could elect to drop the third position from the 53 man roster and sign a quarterback to the practice squad (neither Stephen McGee or Rudy Carpenter are eligible for the PS, according to the CBA, so the team would have to sign someone off the street, likely a player cut from another team just before the start of the season.)

And that would mean the team has given up on Stephen McGee's further development. Although it is not a hard and fast rule, the third quarterback slot on an NFL team is primarily the development position. One is your starter, two is the backup if the starter goes down, and three is a player who is there to learn and develop for the future. It can be a player you have faith in, or it can be someone you are taking a bit of a flyer on, like, say, some UDFA out of a small Illinois school who probably will never be able to play in the NFL. But to be in that third position, a player needs to improve. He needs to show that he can step up at least to be the primary backup. And by signing Kyle Orton, the Cowboys showed that they do not feel they can put their faith in McGee.

The question could be asked whether the team would have gone with McGee had they not signed Orton. However, in January, I first heard that the team was interested in signing another quarterback, possibly in a trade on draft day. With Orton's signing, that became unnecessary (and I was never able to find out if the rumor was accurate or not). But I do think there was some fire behind that smoke and the team's evaluation was that McGee is not going to progress enough.

Does that mean that Rudy Carpenter may supplant McGee? He could show enough for the team to want to keep him to see how he develops. But that raises the question of whether the team gains that much with him. He also missed time during the OTAs and minicamp, so he is behind going into training camp. There is a chance that he will just be McGee 2.0.

However, he may have a better chance to stick now than McGee. Going back to those two articles I mentioned, they both show a clear sentiment that McGee's time has passed.

But after finishing the year as the No. 2 quarterback, McGee's spot isn't so solid now. If Carpenter outplays him, the Cowboys might consider keeping him.

In fact, they could keep only two quarterbacks and the third player on the practice squad.

With the Cowboys playing four preseason games in a 16-day span, it's likely Tony Romo and Kyle Orton won't get a ton of snaps anyway. That will leave the rest mostly for McGee, and some for Carpenter as well.

But it begs the question if those two guys are competing against each other, or both auditioning for spots with other teams.

Nick Eatman | Dallas

If he can't challenge Orton for the No. 2 spot, Rudy Carpenter, who is part of the 90-man training camp roster, should make a serious run at McGee.

If McGee or Carpenter can't impress the offensive coaching staff, go with two quarterbacks.

It's not the end of the world or the best option, but you want good players on your team. The time is now to see if McGee is a good fit for these Cowboys.

Calvin Watkins |

Two articles, and almost identical opinions. Which, as I mentioned, I fully agree with.

One thing I will always wonder is whether Stephen McGee might have had a better chance to make the team if he had not lost the 2011 offseason to the lockout. How much did that hurt his development? Of all the Cowboys, he may suffer the most from the Great Suckitude.

Be that as it may, he is fighting for his chance to remain a Cowboy. And given the positions where the Cowboys may want to keep another player on the roster, such as wide receiver, running back, and defensive back, he is fighting not just Rudy Carpenter, but the numbers as well. I am beginning to think that his chances of being with the team on September 5 in New Jersey are less that fifty-fifty.


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