While most of the attention this weekend is rightfully on the cuts down to 53 players across the NFL, an interesting side story has developed with news that former Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton has signed to play for the Buffalo Bills. Because of the confusing and bitter breakup between Orton and the Cowboys, there is speculation that this, in conjunction with the equally rancorous split between Dallas and Jay Ratliff, may point to some deeper issue with the Cowboys.
I don't think that is what the whole Orton debacle is about. I think it is rooted more in simple human nature. Kyle Orton made a decision a couple of years ago to sign on as Tony Romo's backup, changed his mind, and then maneuvered to get himself free to pursue his own agenda.
First, the change of mind. Remember, Orton signed with Dallas after he was Tebowed out of Denver. At the time, he made some comments about needing a chance to get some better coaching than he felt he had gotten earlier in his career. The entire experience surrounding Tim Tebow and the strange effect he had on teams during his brief career as a quarterback without appropriate skills for the NFL seemed to have made Orton a rather bitter man. The Cowboys offered him a nice contract. He was immediately hailed as perhaps the best backup quarterback in the league. Repeatedly. In his final game, he stepped in for the injured Romo and came very close to taking the team to the playoffs. Had he avoided the interception late in the game and driven to win, he would have been hailed as a hero.
Somewhere along the way, he obviously decided being a backup was not actually what he wanted to do for the final year of his three-year contract. He fell prey to ambition and the belief that any other situation as the starter was preferable to another year of standing around on the sidelines watching the quarterback in which the Cowboys had invested so much. This had to be reinforced when the Cowboys, desperately needing defensive help, drafted Zack Martin largely to improve the protection for Romo. It is an age old story, one we all can grasp. Otherwise, John Milton's line "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven" would not be such a famous quote. (I am not trying to make some joke about playing in Buffalo there. Really.)
Orton technically signed with the Bills to be a backup to E.J. Manuel, but that is not the plan. It is pretty much certain that he signed there because he thinks he can take the starting job away from Manuel, and it is just as likely that the Bills signed him for just that reason. This is Orton's chance to be top dog again, something he was unlikely to ever see in Dallas.
Why he chose to float the talk about retirement is a little hard to figure out, but from day one of OTAs, it was clear he was doing everything he could to get cut by the team without having to give up millions of dollars in guaranteed money. Sitting out all of the voluntary activities, and then staying away for the mandatory minicamp, made him a hard commodity to trade. This may have been part of the whole idea as well, since he probably preferred to have more control over where he could eventually play than he would if traded. When things got to the point he really couldn't hold out anymore, he started preparing to show up in camp. By then, however, there had to be some rather large doubts growing about just how much the Cowboys could depend on him, and the team decided to cut him loose and concentrate on Brandon Weeden, while using his roster spot to look at someone who actually wanted to play for Dallas.
With the number of NFL teams who lack a quality starting quarterback, the numbers game was now in Orton's favor. It is not surprising that he just signed a deal, since the whole bet he made on being able to find a new team was based on at least one of the franchises finding itself in fairly desperate straits as the start of the season loomed. Buffalo certainly fit that bill (yes, I know what I did there) and Orton got his shot.
As for the whole strange episode implying that there is something wrong in Dallas, I keep thinking about a line I found in the Don Van Natta Jr. profile of Jerry Jones that I did my last post on, referring to the way people feel about the owner and general manager of the Cowboys.
He's been good to me: I heard this refrain from other former players and dismissed coaches who declined to discuss Jones on the record.
There may be something else going on in Dallas - but outside of the two rather strange situations with Orton and Ratliff, there isn't any real evidence of it. Indeed, from a financial viewpoint, Jones and the Cowboys were also very good to both of them. Kyle Orton just made a decision for himself, and successfully managed to get himself free of the Cowboys to pursue his own goals. How many of them he can reach in Buffalo, of course, remains to be seen.