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The Five Game Evaluation For The Cowboys: Who Will Be The Backup Quarterback In 2016?

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One of the many things leading to the crash and burn in Dallas was the failure to have a serviceable backup at quarterback. The remainder of the season at least allows the team to try and make some informed decisions about fixing that.

Matt Cassel now gets an extended audition to be Tony Romo's backup.
Matt Cassel now gets an extended audition to be Tony Romo's backup.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The season is over for Tony Romo, which also has ended any rational hope for the Dallas Cowboys. However, there are still five games to be played. Although the team would benefit psychologically from getting some wins (and would unfortunately surrender draft position at the same time), those games will also be a time for the staff to evaluate the performance of many players on the roster to determine what, if any, role they will have in 2016.

We all found out, to our dismay, just how dependent the team was on having Romo on the field, but we also found out just how important and poorly handled the backup job was. For the remainder of the depressing 2015 season, every offensive snap is also going to provide some valuable data to analyze with an eye to who will back Romo up next year.

Matt Cassel is now auditioning for the backup quarterback spot in 2016 and perhaps a season or two beyond that. He will be starting games at least as long as there is any mathematical chance to still get into the playoffs. The season is over for the Cowboys, but that does not mean they should quit trying and hoping for the biggest NFL miracle ever. Once that last chance is completely and irrevocably eliminated, then they may wish to do something else, but they also may feel that they need to continue evaluating what they have in Cassel. There is some value in working with a known quantity rather than starting the search all over again.

Although he was not more able to win a game than Brandon Weeden, he also had to play games with relatively little preparation. The staff is going to be looking for clearly perceptible improvement as he becomes more experienced with the system and playbook. (This is also a chance to see how Scott Linehan adapts as well, since there are certainly questions about how he did with that during the first stint on injured reserve for Romo.) Cassel also can show he is benefiting from more time to work with his offensive teammates. Getting a couple of wins would go a long way towards making him an attractive option to re-sign.

The Cowboys also will have a chance to find out more about Kellen Moore, who is reportedly something of a favorite of Linehan's. Assuming that is not made irrelevant by a change at offensive coordinator, the staff would probably like to get a better feel for whether there is anything to develop with Moore for the future. There are several ways they could go if there is deemed to be reason to retain him. The biggest payoff, although also by far the least likely outcome, is that they think he could be the eventual starter for the Cowboys when Romo is no longer part of the team. The odds are certainly very long against this, but with him available, there is no reason to not consider it. The second possibility is that he could become the backup quarterback in another season or two. He's a cheaper option than Cassel, and seven years younger. He could be a long term solution as the backup if he can show he is capable of winning about half the games he played if forced into a relief role, even if he never was able to become the starter. A third possibility, although also not all that likely, is that he might win the backup role over Cassel for next year.

The question is whether the coaching staff would be willing to give Moore a chance to play even after elimination. Jason Garrett is a big believer in playing to win every game in the regular season. Cassel probably offers the best chance to do that and may get the starts all the way to the end, barring injury. This would mean the team would basically have to do any evaluation of Moore in practice, which really would not help his chances. It will be interesting to see what the team does if the Cowboys do face one or more meaningless games - although given the sorry state of the NFC East at the moment, that may not happen.

Jameill Showers is also on the practice squad and, at least in terms of his athleticism, he is intriguing. It is highly doubtful that he would ever be called up, much less get to play. His value to the team is mostly as a very versatile piece for the practice squad, where he has reportedly been used as a wide receiver as well as a quarterback. For the immediate future, his best hope is to probably hang around on the practice squad for another year or two, but you have to wonder if there is any thought that he may have something to offer in the long run. That is probably unknowable for us on the outside. Still, if he is not released after the season (he was signed to a three year contract, although I am not sure what effect being waived and signed to the PS has), it will be interesting to see what they do with him.

There is also the possibility of a totally negative conclusion, that the Cowboys have to move on from all three of the quarterbacks currently under contract. While that would be somewhat discouraging, it at least would be based on some decent information gained as Dallas plays out the string.

A lot of information is gleaned by the team during practice and meetings, but all we have to help form opinions is the games themselves. While incomplete, it will not slow us down in the slightest in coming to our own conclusions. One of the things we provide here at Blogging the Boys is a lively forum to exchange views on things.

And from now until the next campaign gets underway in nine months, we will have a lot to discuss.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB