In retrospect, I will admit that I was wrong. As Matt Cassel struggled as the starter for the Cowboys, I was rather dismissive of the idea that his untested backup, Kellen Moore, could do much better. While Moore was a decidedly mixed bag in his first on-field action in the NFL, he did seem to display better confidence and more ability to survey the field and read the defense than Cassel. Now he has been designated the starter for at least the next-to-last game against the Buffalo Bills and will have an opportunity to audition for the backup position next year.
That may be important. First, he has to show that he can improve with more playing time, something that Cassel and Brandon Weeden both failed to do in rather definitive fashion (Weeden's performance in leading the Houston Texans to a win notwithstanding). But if he can come in during the final two games and display growth, he may have a future as the number two quarterback for the Cowboys. He needs to cut down on the bad throws and interceptions, improve more on the recent dismal third down conversion rate, and demonstrate an ability to get touchdowns, especially in the red zone. A win or two would be nice, but given the fact that the team might elect to begin shutting down some of the stars and look at some other players for the future, that is not as important. There is also the value of "organic tanking", to borrow a phrase Mike Fisher likes to use, in preserving a high draft pick.
In hindsight, we are left to wonder what might have happened if Moore had been the first choice when Tony Romo went down in the second game of the season. With a chance to grow in action, it is not inconceivable that he might have found a way to win two or three more games this year. But that is now just water under the bridge. What is very intriguing is what Moore might do for the team if he proves he is a good backup option.
The ability to come in and beat at least the poor teams on the schedule is the first thing teams look for in a backup. With Romo's injury history and age, that just becomes more important each season.
There are some things about Moore that could indicate that he is a much better fit for the Dallas offense than Weeden or Cassel were. It was a thought that came earlier (and shows how those Twitter takes sometimes grow into posts).
Very small sample, but Moore's game looked closer to Romo's than Weeden's or Cassel's. You'd think that would be helpful for all.— Tom Ryle (@TomRyleBTB) December 21, 2015
What couldn't be squeezed into 140 characters was that Moore displayed some Romoesque traits. He looked like he was much better at getting through his reads, as mentioned above. He also got all the receivers involved rather than going into checkdown mode. His movement in the pocket looked much more like Romo's than his two predecessors ever demonstrated. That should make it much easier to put him in as a replacement for Romo for both the short and long haul as needed. Scott Linehan would have less adjustment to make in the game plan. So would the other offensive players. With Moore, it looks like you get a sort of Romo lite. Weeden and Cassel demanded a more radical shift in approach. When you have an offense that has been so extensively crafted for your quarterback, it has to be more difficult the less like that quarterback his replacement is. And the admittedly limited evidence at hand shows that Moore is closer to Romo's skill sets and style.
If he does continue to show what he appeared to show against the New York Jets, Moore could be a solid backup. But his importance to the team goes beyond just that. The Cowboys are in a position where they need to work on finding the eventual replacement for Romo. That will likely take some hefty draft capital, and it looks like they will have it to use in the 2016 draft. But this may not be the best year for quarterbacks. Additionally, salary cap considerations have the team in a position where they need to have Romo last for two or preferably three years as the starter. That would relieve some of the pressure to overdraft a quarterback as well as providing more time to work with a pick to get them ready to assume the mantle when the time comes. Having a backup who gives you a lesser but still reasonable approximation of Romo would help to extend his playing time. Not only could that kind of player step in if needed without things going as badly off the rails as they did this season, the ability to eke out some wins over the less formidable opponents would also alleviate the need to rush Romo back from injury, a need that clearly influenced the handling of Romo this year. Moore may not be a candidate to become the full-time starter for Dallas one day, but he could be very important in helping the team find the right quarterback to do that.
That is just one writer's opinion, of course. Moore just does not appear to be a real candidate to be a true NFL franchise quarterback. His best hope would be to become a long-time and reliable backup. But I was wrong before.
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