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Will The Dallas Cowboys Keep A Third Quarterback?

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Is a backup for these two worth a roster spot?
Is a backup for these two worth a roster spot?

And then there were 75. The Dallas Cowboys have made the initial cut down for 2012. Many of the people in that group know they have a role on the team, but for 30 or so of the remaining players, the game against the Miami Dolphins is the last chance to cement a roster spot, or perhaps catch the coaches' eye and push someone else out the door.

The coaches are trying to manipulate a complicated puzzle. Not only do they have to decide who the best players are at each position, they have to also fill in the special teams roster, and decide how many bodies to carry at each position. This means a number of tradeoffs that need to be made.

One of the biggest decisions facing Jason Garrett and his staff is what to do about the quarterback position. While Tony Romo and Kyle Orton have the starter and backup positions locked down as solid as iron, the third quarterback position is in a state of flux. Stephen McGee and Rudy Carpenter are not only competing with each other for the job, they are up against all the other positions where another player may be more valuable to the team than either of them.

This has been an ongoing topic for some time, and it really heated up when the Cowboys signed Orton, effectively making a vote of no-confidence in McGee. His chance at getting another year with the team seemed to ride on Jason Garrett's preference for having three quarterbacks, but even that may be starting to fade a bit.

The options facing the team after the jump.

There is not a lot of evidence so far to help judge the relative merits of McGee and Carpenter. Neither have gotten extensive work in the preseason yet. In the limited time, neither has been consistent. Carpenter looked the better of the two in the San Diego Chargers game, while McGee seemed more effective against the St. Louis Rams.

But there is one very big factor to consider. McGee is not practice squad eligible. Carpenter is. That means the team can try to clear waivers with Carpenter and keep him as an emergency backup to call up if something (heavens forbid) should happen to Tony Romo. Even if Carpenter is not any improvement over McGee, he still would be involved in practice and the Cowboys playbook as a PS member, which would give the team a much better option than signing an unemployed player off the street.

The real question here is the relative value either McGee or Carpenter have to the team when you look at who they might cost. A roster spot spent on them might have been used to keep a Mana Silva, Andre Holmes, or Ben Bass on the team. Who has more potential to help the Cowboys? With the lack of progress McGee has shown, he seems at a dead end, where any of the other players I mentioned still has room to grow and develop.

McGee himself seems to realize this. When talking about the opportunity he is facing in this week's game, he had this to say:

"It's the most reps that I always get all year," he said. "It's a great chance to go out there and hopefully put a good tape out there."

That sounds like a guy auditioning for a new job, not to keep his current one. Perhaps he has been given a hint of his future.

If McGee has not shown much development, then Carpenter has shown even less. The fact he is eligible for the practice squad, despite having come into the league at the same time McGee did, shows that he has not proven himself of any real value, or at least of more value than the guys ahead of him. This also makes him unlikely to be signed away from Dallas when he is waived, which means he should be easy to get to the PS.

But he is a higher value option to the Cowboys, because he can be put on the practice squad and provide almost as much insurance as McGee can on the 53-man roster. This helps the team keep someone of value at another position, as I said.

The only way I see McGee being re-signed is if Garrett is totally committed to carrying three QBs and convinced that McGee is a better player than Carpenter. If Carpenter beats McGee on performance, it actually makes the argument to put him on the practice squad and dump McGee stronger.

I think Garrett will take a pragmatic approach. If the team has 53 players that are more valuable than Stephen McGee, and I think that it does, he gets cut, and Rudy Carpenter is waived to see if he can be signed to the PS. The last game of the season is just McGee's audition to go somewhere else and try to hang on. Churn happens.


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