We have a little less than four weeks until the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in Oxnard. There are myriad questions still to be answered. To help everyone get the questions straight in their heads, I decided to go through the roster and break all ninety names into position groups, and present a post on each group with what I think we know about them, and what the specific questions are for each group. Today: The quarterbacks.
The franchise: Tony Romo is the starter. End of story, and if the team could surround him in bubble wrap for the entire preseason, they certainly would. At a minimum, his health looks to be better than it was for three-quarters of the season last year, and it may be better than it has been since sometime in early 2012. If the offensive line does its job, he is definitely in the solutions column for what has ailed this team.
The drama queen/holdout: Kyle Orton had a secure position as the backup quarterback, but for whatever reason, he decided he was no longer content with it, and sat out both the voluntary and mandatory part of the offseason program.
During the time leading up to the OTAs, the statements coming from the staff and management was consistent in that they always "expected" the neckbearded one to show up. Since then, Jerry Jones has indicated that there was considerably less confidence in that than anyone would admit publicly. Now, the official line is again that the team expects Orton to show up in Oxnard and be an important contributor.
I would never say that I think Jason Garrett and others are outright lying about that, but I think Jason Garrett and others are outright lying about that. I suspect their faith in him arriving in Oxnard all ready to go is pretty slim right now. What they are really doing is leaving that door unlocked for Orton if he does want to come back, but even if he does show up in decent shape to start training camp, I no longer believe he is the automatic number two. He would be starting from scratch with whatever wrinkles Scott Linehan has put into the offense. More importantly, there would have to be a lingering suspicion that he was just showing up to collect his paycheck and put the onus on the team to cut him so he would not have to pay back any money from his bonuses. Worse, how can you be sure he would not become another case like Jay Ratliff in the locker room? Does the team really want to risk that unneeded drama?
Even if he does show, about which I harbor considerable doubts, I wonder if he will wind up in the remedial running group we have seen of late. Either way, I personally would not put any faith in him to carry the team in an emergency after this little snit he has had.
The backup: Brandon Weeden was signed as an economical insurance policy. This turned out to be an extremely wise move, as we now know. It just reinforces the belief I have that the staff knew that Orton's participation in the offseason program was uncertain at best. If the team had to set its 53-man roster today, Weeden would be the number two quarterback. And he is probably as good or better than about half the number twos in the league.
Not everyone thinks that Weeden is as good a backup as Orton, based on his record with the Cleveland Browns. I think Weeden can pass Orton, at least in the team's evaluation of him, because the mental aspect has to factor in. As I mentioned, there will be some question as to just how much Orton would have his heart in it if he does show up, and he has lost ground with a new passing game coordinator/play caller on board. Dallas liked Weeden's skill set coming out of college, and it sounds like he has not done badly so far. I don't have a vote, but if I did, I would have Weeden ahead of Orton on the depth chart at this point, and Orton would have to prove in camp he deserves to get number two back.
If he did do so, then the Cowboys might have to think about carrying three quarterbacks on the roster. Weeden may be the backup of the future. And if you are going to put Orton back in the number two slot, you might just want to have someone behind him. I know, I am harping on that theme, but the trust there has been pretty well savaged.
The camp body: Caleb Hanie is on the roster to provide an extra arm. His best outcomes at the end of training camp: Someone else gives him a shot, and Dallas keeps his phone number for a possible future emergency.
The practice squad hopeful: Can Dustin Vaughn be this year's Alex Tanney, only without the getting poached part? That looks like the role the Cowboys hope he can fill. He would provide a practice/scout quarterback while the team gets a year to see if they have something worth developing in him.
The only real uncertainty facing Dallas is what Orton will do. If he shows, it does create a battle for the backup job. Obviously, I don't have any say in this, but I think the team should decide if they want to go through that. And if Orton does not involve himself in some direct communication before camp, I would go with "no" and cut him for the good of the team.