"We do have to look to the future relative to quarterback,'' Jones said. "It's starting a time frame where a guy could come in and be a good backup.
"Look at how Romo evolved into the guy he is today. He did a little time with the clip board.''
The Cowboys have not successfully drafted a quarterback since they acquired Troy Aikman as a blue-chipper. The three quarterbacks they have drafted since him, Bill Musgrave (4th round), Quincy Carter (2nd round), and Stephen McGee (4th round) were not exactly future Ring of Honor inductees. Tony Romo of course was an undrafted free agent who worked out much better than anyone could have imagined.
But Romo is clearly nearing the end of his time with Dallas. While the team hopes for several more productive seasons from him, those seasons are limited. And the team would be unwise to wait until he has to hang the cleats up to look for his replacement.
Unless you are convinced that Brandon Weeden or Dustin Vaughn are the answer, Jones has a point. However, even though Jones has indicated that the team is interested in the idea of bringing in someone to compete with those two for a backup spot, is this really a wise use of a mid- or late-round draft pick?
I was involved in a discussion of this on Twitter with our own podcast meister Landon McCool, and I thought the thoughts brought up were worth recreating.
Tom: I think that it would be wise to go ahead and look for a quarterback. This would not be just grabbing one at random, of course, but would be a player the team had on their board who was available in the right round. Given the weakness of this year's crop, I don't think anything higher than a fourth-round pick would be wise, but from there on, I could see the team bringing in a player they thought would have a shot at supplanting one of the backups currently on the roster.
Landon: I think it's a mistake to think you can draft for a QB like you're drafting for any other position. Finding a guy who can make you competitive in the NFL is far and away the best indicator of sustained success. More than having a great coach, more than having a great GM. Part of this has to do with how much more the QB affects the game than any other single position. The other part has to do with how incredibly rare these players are. The drop off in talent between a 1st round QB and a 4th round QB is insanely steep compared to any other position. So when you need a QB, the method with the most success is to pay the high price of drafting one in the top half of the first round. Otherwise the biggest difference between a mid-round pick with "upside" and a 7th Rounder/UDFA with "upside", is that one cost you a valuable pick and the other didn't.
Tom: The problem with having to find your quarterbacks in the top half of the first round is that there are only two ways to get there: You either suck the season before the draft, or you heavily mortgage your future to trade up. Given that recent history has only had two or three legitimate "blue chip" QBs in each draft, you might have to do both to get to one of the top five spots in the draft. I don't see the Cowboys tanking while Romo is at all healthy, and I also don't see the brain trust in Dallas giving up what it would take to go after one of those. If they hope to find a successor for Romo, they have to start looking at other options. The scouting staff needs to find a QB that has the physical and mental tools, but needs some coaching and seasoning still.
Landon: The problem with your plan is that it just doesn't happen anymore in the NFL since the latest CBA. All rookie contracts are four-year deals (with an option for a fifth year, IF it is a first-rounder.) So without the extra assurance of getting RFA rights to their contract once it expires, youre most likely will just be training a QB who may never see a snap on your team. Your point about the cost of getting a blue-chip QB is correct, but it is also the cost of doing business. Nibbling around the edges with (literally) middling talent will end up being more expensive in the long run as well as ineffective. The myth of "developing a QB" has been perpetuated by the exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. QB development is about getting meaningful snaps, in game like situations, while running your team's offense. The problem with "developing" your back up, or even third QB for that matter, is simply that they wont get enough snaps during practice in order to actually develop. Back up QBs in the NFL run the scout team, so are usually running plays "off cards" (meaning running that week's opponent's offense to give their team's defense a good look). I understand that the idea of giving up massive capital, or biting the bullet, and playing an awful season with a lesser QB for a year, don't sound like great options to fans. "Wasting a year" by mortgaging your draft, or by playing without a franchise guy at QB sounds wasteful, but not nearly as bad as meandering through the QB wilderness while you wait for a low ceiling guy to get better. But if you get a first-round guy, first off, most should be able to start right away. They may not be elite right away, but usually the blue-chippers are at least capable of playing on an NFL field. If you go the UDFA route, you mostly get the same kind of player you would in the 4th (the talent level plateaus after the 2nd route mostly), and you don't waste a pick, AND they can become a RFA once the contract is up. Point being, if you're gonna try the mostly fruitless method of "QB Development", do it without investing valuable capital that can build a solid team around any young QB.
Tom: One of Dallas' strengths in past years has been the success of the scouting staff in identifying talent. The best example from last year was Anthony Hitchens, who came in and performed better than anyone could have expected for a fourth-round pick, starting some games when injuries forced him into the lineup and acquitting himself well. Although quarterbacks are a unique category of player, the job of Will McClay and his people is to find what others miss. And a fourth- or fifth-round pick is supposed to be a player that is going to be a backup at first. If the staff thinks they have identified a player that has the skills that could one day turn into a starter, that is a legitimate use of a middle- or lower-round pick. It keeps Dallas from having to try to bid for him as a UDFA, and also keeps some other team from drafting him later. If you don't try to acquire someone, you are essentially committing to letting things go downhill badly when Romo retires, or to mortgaging the future by spending draft picks to trade up. The latter just delays the ability to build the team. A fourth-round pick or later is not a waste, especially if the player you get is better than the backups you have. Improving the roster is always the overall goal.
Landon: The problem with your example is that instead of getting the versatile quasi-starter in Anthony Hitchens, you're drafting Mike Kafka... Also none of this solves the problem that 99.9% of mid-round QBs aren't ready to walk in on day one as a backup, much less a starter (Again don't just list the exception). So they need quality snaps, which will be hard to come by. I would also like to point out the fantasy that we can avoid having a down year after losing our franchise QB. You'll notice that the teams that DO accomplish that, usually drafted a blue-chip QB the very next draft (Colts). Even if it was possible to train up a mid-round QB up well enough to make him a starter, there is no way he will be anywhere near as good as your former franchise guy in his first season. You are going to take a step back, your best bet is to use it to your advantage to get the cornerstone of your franchise, instead of limping along with guys who might be "good enough". Let's also look at the risk vs reward? Is it worth taking a fourth-rounder who most likely will be a Stephen McGee/Sage Rosenfels/Jesse Palmer/Chris Weinke/Danny Kanell just for the opportunity that you MAY hit the jackpot and get.... Kyle Orton/David Garrard/Aaron Brooks??? Even these exceptions to the rule, aren't all that exceptional!
Tom: But that sounds like a policy of just doing nothing and not dealing with the issue until it is a full blown crisis. True, there is no guarantee that you will find an answer in a mid to lower round of the draft, but why not take a player if the scouts say he is worth it? A long shot seems better than no shot at all. And based on the way the owner is talking, Dallas is leaning towards at least looking for a quarterback in the draft this year.
Landon: I'd like to clear something up here, when scouts give players a grade, it's not implying that the team should take him there, just where his value is if he were to be taken. If the Seahawks knew that Russell Wilson was going to be Russell Wilson, they should've taken him in the 1st round. The point is, EVERYONE missed on Russell, the Seahawks just lucked out by taking him in the 3rd. But again, he is the exception to the Brodie Croyle/Charlie Frye/Trent Edwards/Brock Huard/Charlie Whitehurst/Andrew Walter/Chris Simms/Colt McCoy/Giovanni Carmazzis of the world. To sum up, I believe what my path produces is a painful, but short transition between franchise QBs, as opposed to years of trial and error with guys, who... face it... If they were good enough, would probably have been taken early. Ultimately for me it's about asset allocation. Spending picks on guys who you hope to be mediocre, that instead could be used on potential starters at other positions, seems like a bad allocation of resources.
As you can tell, we didn't exactly come to a meeting of the minds. It is a topic that is interesting, especially as long as the owner is bringing it up. So what do you think about the idea? Are you on Team Landon, or Team Correct . . . err, Team Tom?