Running backs and cornerbacks might currently be dominating the headlines as the Cowboys' biggest areas of need, but if you go by the Cowboys' actions over the past few weeks, there may be another position where the Cowboys see perhaps an even bigger need, and that's at quarterback.
Any discussion about quarterbacks and the Cowboys inevitably leads to questions about Tony Romo's longevity, durability, and ultimately, his eventual successor. But that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to focus on the Cowboys' apparent concern about the quality of their backup quarterbacks.
We don't know what the Cowboys think about Dustin Vaughan out of Division II West Texas A&M, and we don't know exactly what the Cowboys think about Brandon Weeden, a former first-round pick who was already playing for the veteran minimum in just his third year in the NFL.
What we do know is that the Cowboys have not been coy about their interest in improving their backup QB spot.
"We do have to look to the future relative to quarterback,’’ Jerry Jones said recently. "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.’’
And their interest in improving their situation at backup quarterback with a veteran QB seems to have picked up in recent weeks. Here's a short summary of their moves to date - or at least the ones we know about:
- Shaun Hill: In early March, Jim Thomas, the Rams beat writer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, reported that the Cowboys were showing interest in Hill. Hill, who played for Scott Linehan in Detroit, was payed $1.75 million by the Rams in 2014, but the Cowboys lost interest in Hill when he signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal in Minnesota. That includes $3.2 million in guaranteed money, and incentives that could max out the contract at $7.5 million.
- Matt Schaub: Schaub visited the Cowboys sometime in March, but that never went anywhere either. Once reports of the visit surfaced - on the same day that Schaub's $3 million deal with the Ravens was announced - the Cowboys' interest was termed as "fleeting".
- Tyler Wilson & Jerrod Johnson both worked out for the Cowboys during last week's Dallas day: Wilson was originally a fourth-round pick for the Raiders in 2013, but was waived prior to the 2013 season. He was immediately picked up by the Titans and spent the season on their roster, but was released at the start of training camp in 2014. The Bengals then picked him up but let him go with the final roster cuts in 2014. Johnson went undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2011 and has since been with eight NFL, UFL, and Arena teams, and is currently signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.
But it's not just veteran QBs the Cowboys have looked at. Here are some of this year's rookies the Cowboys have shown an interest in:
- Bryce Petty, Baylor: Cowboys QB Coach Wade Wilson attended Petty's Pro day in mid-March, and the Cowboys had an extensive private meeting with Petty afterwards. They also brought him in for Dallas day last week. Petty is widely seen as a third-round prospect, though it's possible he could move up into the second round.
- Garret Grayson, Colorado State: Grayson has a visit scheduled with the Cowboys sometime this week. Like Petty, he's expected to be a third-round prospect.
- Sean Mannion, Oregon State: Ian Rapoport reported today that the Cowboys would be traveling to Oregon tomorrow to work out Mannion, who could be available in the fourth round of the draft. Mannion stands at 6'6 and weighs 229 lbs.
- Chris Bonner, Colorado State-Pueblo: The Cowboys attended Bonner's pro day as one of only four NFL teams, according to Dane Brugler. The 6'6, 231 Bonner could be available on the third day of the draft.
- Hutson Mason, Georgia: Marc Weiszer, Georgia football writer for the Athens Banner-Herald reported that the Cowboys had a private workout with Hutson, who is expected to be drafted very late, if at all.
The Jones family is reportedly "buzzing about the idea of using a mid-round pick this year on a potential heir to Tony Romo," and the Cowboys' recent activity suggests that they are looking for a capable backup at the very minimum, and perhaps more than that.
Many observers have previously speculated that Tony Romo's contract would ultimately determine when the Cowboys would begin looking for his successor. Romo is signed through 2019, and may well end up playing through his entire contract, but the Cowboys can get out of the contract as early as 2017. From a salary cap standpoint, 2017 is the year in which releasing Romo would actually increase the available cap space (by $5.5 million) for the team - despite Romo's recent restructure.
If the Cowboys could find a viable developmental candidate this year, with the plan to sit him for 2-3 years, then they may have a real option down the road in case they need a successor for Romo. But that plan will only work with a 3rd or 4th-round (and preferably even later) pick, because in today's NFL, you simply can't afford to invest a 1st or 2nd-round pick in a guy who'll sit for 2-3 years.
Whether Petty, Grayson, or Mannion will be available that late is anybody's guess, but it doesn't hurt one little bit to be prepared for that eventuality.
Dallas Cowboys just finished a workout with Brett Hundley/QB/UCLA. Third of four workous/visits for Hundley this week.— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) April 17, 2015