The full story of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is yet to be written, but it is already remarkable. The 2014 season was convincing proof that he is one of the outstanding quarterbacks in the NFL, which is amazing given his back story. He played his college football at division 1-AA Eastern Illinois. Despite winning the Walter Payton award as the outstanding player in 1-AA, he was undrafted in 2003. The Cowboys took a flyer on him, and he has turned into one of the great stories in the league.
The odds against this happening are incredibly long. But now the Cowboys are holding out at least some hope they can do it again with second-year quarterback Dustin Vaughan. Like Romo, he played at a small school, division II West Texas A&M. Like Romo, he had some impressive numbers, setting a school record for yards passing. And like Romo, he was signed as a UDFA. So far, he has not done anything to prove that he could continue to grow the way that Romo did, but then no one saw what Romo was going to be after his first season.
Barring the unforeseen, there is no rush. Inspired by the superb offensive line and skillful play calling of Scott Linehan, Romo is talking about playing another five years. And there is an intermediate step for his career development, since current number two quarterback Brandon Weeden is scheduled to be a free agent after this season. Vaughan could move into the backup role while continuing to develop.
This is the way it used to be done in the NFL, before CBA imposed limitations on practices and the pressure to put quarterbacks taken at the very top of the draft on the field immediately changed the way teams get their starters. But the Cowboys have no such high-cost investment in Vaughan. They can bring him along and he can learn the game at a slower, more thorough pace.
But is this throwback approach with a player that couldn't get drafted really worth considering? Well, in a real sense, it is almost without real risk, at least as long as Romo continues to play at a high level. And there are strong indications that the team is going to take the plan as far as they can.
The clearest signs of this come from DallasCowboys.com, AKA the Mothership. The reporters there have some of the best access to the team since they work inside the team headquarters and have more opportunity to talk to the coaches than anyone else. And in the coverage of the OTAs on Wednesday, Dustin Vaughan was a frequent topic of conversation. During Talking Cowboys, Bryan Broaddus, Mickey Spagnola, Rob Phillips, and Kelsey Charles talked about what the team needed to see from Vaughan this year. In particular, they felt he needs to start showing more aggression and assertiveness. During OTA Live, Broaddus and Phillips again brought it up. And in his 12 Thoughts article on the OTAs, Broaddus went back to Vaughan a third time.
Part of the plan this year is to get Vaughan more snaps with the first team and quality time in the preseason games. Although Romo is healthier this offseason than he has been in years, the team is planning to continue keeping Romo on something of a pitch count the way they did last season with "Romo Wednesdays". This is primarily to protect Romo's health, but it also provides the needed extra snaps to bring Vaughan along. And it is something that is likely to continue for the remainder of Romo's career, based on how well it worked out for Dallas in 2014.
Now it is obviously up to Vaughan to step up and prove he is a worthy candidate. At 6-5 and 235, he has the size. The team seems to thnk he has the tools. Now it is mostly going to be about his will and intelligence. He has Romo to mentor him, and Jason Garrett and Wade Wilson to coach him up. He is going to be one of many riveting stories to follow through the OTAs, minicamp, Oxnard and the preseason. We may see him hit his ceiling. He may continue to grow. We are very unlikely to have th final answer this year. But we have a lot to learn.
And if the Cowboys make this work, it will be remarkable. This is a team that is not afraid to get outside the box. It would be a tribute to the work of the staff if they can pull it off.