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Backup Quarterback Picture Just Gets Murkier For Cowboys

After some encouraging signs in the first preseason game, things looked far less positive against the 49ers.

How close is Jameill Showers to passing Dustin Vaughan on the depth chart.
How close is Jameill Showers to passing Dustin Vaughan on the depth chart.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It is fairly clear that the Dallas Cowboys have what Bob Sturm calls an "unconventional approach" to the preseason, and what we call "winning while losing." They have a very strict limit on the number of snaps or series they will allow certain starters to take, and that is if they are fully healthy. Protecting the most valuable resources the team has until the regular season is the top priority. The score doesn't matter, the game situation doesn't matter, how good or bad things go with the starters in doesn't matter. Jason Garrett is going to get those players back on the sidelines where they are safe and let the backups and backups to the backups go out and finish the game. Dallas also is not going to try out much in the way of scheme or plays, generally keeping things more plain than a gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. (Not that I miss ice cream much. But it is coming back. And don't let anyone fool you, when you are out of Blue Bell, you are out of ice cream.)

Given this approach, which is not a common one, the main goal for the Cowboys during preseason games is to evaluate those backups. See how they perform against NFL competition, or at least against other backups trying to make a roster. These are the games when decisions are made about who will be on the 53-man roster, who will be brought back to the practice squad if they are not picked up elsewhere, and who is simply seeing the end of their time with the Cowboys. That is what is supposed to happen, at least. Sometimes, however, it just seems that things get harder to figure out in preseason.

The Cowboys have a strange aversion to drafting quarterbacks. They haven't taken one since Stephen McGee (who may be part of the reason for said aversion). Instead, they have tried to go with a combination of a veteran number two in case the starter is unavailable plus a developmental player either in the number three spot or stashed on the practice squad. When you see those players in preseason, you want to see the veteran show enough ability to make you feel confident things won't fall completely apart if he is called on, and you want to see some progression from that developmental guy.

Last season, those roles were filled by Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan respectively. They are both back, and although the Cowboys sincerely hope Tony Romo will not miss any appreciable time, they still want to know what they have in his backups. In the first preseason game, there were some signs of hope. But against the San Francisco 49ers, both Weeden and Vaughan seemed to regress. They appeared to be staring down receivers, delivered some inaccurate throws, and generally showed nothing to inspire any confidence. The only quarterback who showed any spark during the game was Jameill Showers, who led the team to its only touchdown, but who also was the only one of the three to take the field when the talent level was roughly equal on both sides of the line.

Despite the many fans who heartily endorse the idea of replacing Weeden, the odds of the team doing that are extremely small. There simply are not any better options out there. When the cut-downs come, other teams will be releasing their third or fourth quarterbacks, and no matter how much you may hate Weeden, those future castoffs are almost certainly no better than he is - and in many cases much worse. It is a harsh reality. In a league where only about half the teams have what is a true franchise quarterback, good number twos are not just standing around outside stadiums looking for a tryout. This reality is why Matt Flynn has become a multimillionaire, and how Brian Hoyer has just been named the starter for the Houston Texans ahead of Ryan Mallett. Disappointing as it may seem, the situation at number two QB for the Cowboys is not really going to improve this year.

It seems a long time since we were wondering if this was the year that Vaughan was going to push Weeden for his job. Based on the issues he had early in camp and the two interception, 20.8 passer rating performance in San Francisco, he is not only no threat to Weeden, he may need to be looking over his shoulder. Showers not only just looked more like an NFL quarterback who did not panic or stare down his first option at receiver, he also logged three tackles, two on special teams and one to stop the Niners from taking his errant two-point conversion attempt down the field for their own score. If one developmental QB is not, well, developing, why not move on?

And unless Vaughan can show a lot more in the next couple of preseason games, Showers may just be more valuable to the Cowboys than he is. Whether or not the team keeps three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster or decides to stash the third on the practice squad, that extra value added by Showers playing special teams tilts the scales in his favor. Of course, he would have to avoid his own meltdown as the final two games play out, but so far he has been the most consistent player in the group. He may not be significantly better than Vaughan (he did put the ball in a defender's hands twice himself), but it is hard to argue that he is at all worse. And if they are equal as quarterbacks at this point, the team would gain more value from Showers.

It is somewhat discouraging if this means that the Cowboys are going to start over in looking for a quarterback for the future. But things are looking very tenuous for Vaughan after two games, while Showers at least offers the hope he could do more than just be inactive for every game if he was on the roster. Showers is not necessarily the future at quarterback, but he is unique in offering something he can contribute right now. There may be no player who has fallen more short of our expectations for him this preseason than Vaughan. If the coaching staff feels the same way, his time in Dallas could be over.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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