There have been many factors playing a part in the dreadful 3-8 record of the Dallas Cowboys. But the most glaring has been what has happened at quarterback. Tony Romo has broken his collarbone twice. Brandon Weeden was discarded. Matt Cassel now carries the shrinking hopes of the team as the starter, but we still wait to see if he can even win one game.
This has to be fixed. The obvious solution would seem to be using an expected high draft pick to draft a future starter, but there are a couple of things that might prevent that from happening. First, we all saw what happened at running back in the last draft, when the Cowboys never saw what they thought was the right player available in any round. In hindsight, they clearly missed a real opportunity in the seventh round when they gambled on being able to sign Thomas Rawls as an undrafted free agent, only to see him go to the Seattle Seahawks where he is doing very well. Given the fact that running back is far more easy to replace in the draft, it is quite likely they will not see the right quarterback on their boards this year. There is also the unfortunate fact that any success they have in the remaining five games will hurt their draft position. Even if they do finally spend a draft pick on someone to run their offense, the success rate for quarterbacks, especially as an eventual starter, is not good.
The draft is the best way to build the roster, but not the only one. Free agency is also a path. And this coming offseason, there are a couple of options that might be available that the team should at least consider.
The first is one that is already getting mentioned in a lot of places, especially those on the internet that value clicks over everything else. It looks like the Cleveland Browns are on the verge of cutting ties with Johnny Manziel, who has always been linked to the Dallas and especially Jerry Jones. The mythological card with his name on it that was supposedly taken from Jones' hands during the 2014 draft got a lot of play, even though it never happened. But Jerry Jones in recent days has himself brought the idea of Manziel back up. While there were strong arguments against using a first-round draft pick for him, including the acquisition of Zack Martin instead and the resulting events in Cleveland, circumstances have changed considerably. First, if the Browns should decide to cut ties with him after the repeated issues revolving around his off-field behavior, he could be a cheap option. Dallas could send a late draft pick to the Browns for his rights, but the best thing would be for him to be released outright, which would mean that the Cowboys could try and sign him to as low cost a contract as possible, possibly with the kinds of protection for the team that they built into the now-infamous Greg Hardy deal.
The question then becomes whether he is worth even a low-risk investment. The fact that Jones still thinks he would be valuable is not enough to justify it. His play on the field is not sufficiently convincing, so it comes down to what the scouting department and the coaches think he could bring. One thing that has been floated is that the Browns did not have a good approach to dealing with him. The Cowboys have shown that they can deal with players who have some off field issues. Some have been less than successful, such as Hardy, but the Dez Bryant example shows that they can make it work. It is an open question whether being back in Texas and closer to his admittedly dysfunctional family would help or hurt (his hard drinking party habits seemed to have been learned at home), but it is possible that the Dallas organization could do as good a job of helping him reform as any in the league. And he is just about to turn 23. One of the things that has been shown repeatedly is that men tend to finally mature in their behavior at around 25, when the male brain finally reaches what is considered full adulthood by those who study that kind of thing. Manziel may just need to finish growing up. The Cowboys might find themselves the beneficiary of having him on the team when that happens. He has in the past displayed a clear ability to lead a football team to wins. Risks certainly abound with him, but if those can be managed, he could be worth it.
Colin Kaepernick, like Manziel, may also be released by the San Francisco 49ers. He would represent a larger cap savings than his dead money in 2016. He is coming off injured reserve, and his play has steadily declined since he played in the Super Bowl, but he is certainly worth some evaluation. If his issues are believed to be correctable, he may be worth bringing in to take a look at. Unlike Manziel, he has shown he can help win games in the NFL. He also is not without risk, but could have a lot of upside.
Dallas has multiple problems at quarterback. Romo is aging and obviously could always fall prey to injury again. The team currently has no long-term plan for his replacement. A reliable backup is also a need, and the jury is still out on whether Cassel can be an answer there. The Cowboys still hope that Romo has a few more years left (although almost certainly not the four or five that Jones has mentioned recently). Either Manziel or Kaepernick would not be required to step into an immediate starting role, but would hopefully have two or three years to learn and grow while backing Romo up. And if one of them could develop, or in Kaepernick's case, return to his old form, they might be the answer to the problem of replacing Romo when that sad day inevitably comes. They certainly are young enough to have many years ahead of them if they should pan out. At the least, they might be a better option at backup while the Cowboys try to draft the eventual replacement at starter.
Just last offseason, both of them were largely outside of any realistic consideration to come to Dallas, but things change rapidly in the NFL. Now both of them might be available after this year. Kaepernick is considered very likely to be released, and the probability of Manziel also being on the street is growing. The Cowboys are in a position where they need to be open to any possible solution to their quarterback issues. There is a long way to go before one of these options may come into play, but it is time for some radical thinking in Dallas. Looking those two options over should not be discarded out of hand.
What do you think? This has been a season that was unimaginable just a few months ago. Can you envision Manziel or Kaepernick in a Cowboys uniform?