It is an axiom in the NFL. If you don't have a franchise quarterback, you don't succeed. Given the incredible demands on the position, the simple fact is that there are not enough to go around in the league. The result is that teams without one, or looking to replace the one they have down the road, often have to pay way more than retail to get them. Even if the team is looking to just get a good, solid backup, they have to spend as much for a QB2 as they would for a starter at almost any other position, because the backup QB is almost as important as most of your other starters.
The Dallas Cowboys found out the hard way what happens when you don't have that capable backup during the Great Debacle of 2015. Now they are facing some hard choices. Having failed to acquire a veteran in free agency (so far) they are now being reported to be eyeing a trade up to get a second pick in the first round, and the assumption is that they would only do so to get a passer.
Was told Cowboys aggressively looking into having TWO 1st round picks tomorrow night.— Ben Rogers (@BenRogers) April 27, 2016
This is at least partly the inevitable result of the reluctance of the Cowboys to draft quarterbacks over the past couple of decades.
There is actually a reason for the failure to bring in quarterback talent through the draft. The Cowboys have been very disciplined in sticking to their draft board, especially in recent years. But because of the extreme value teams place on the position, quarterback has become the most overdrafted position by far, meaning that Dallas never saw quarterbacks at the right spot, according to their board. They chose not to overpay, and that meant someone else who was willing to pony up got all the quarterbacks.
Just look at the price the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles have paid to get the first- and second-overall spots, presumably for the right to draft Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. They both gave up so much draft capital that they have severely crippled themselves in building the rest of their rosters. Even if they both hit on a franchise QB this year, they may find themselves in the position of the Indianapolis Colts, where Andrew Luck, a legitimate franchise-level talent, is not able to lift the team up because they have not done a good job with the rest of the players around him. And (purely one man's opinion) the odds are that either the Rams or the Eagles are going to wind up with a severe disappointment. Given the flaws of the players involved, plus the way the college game no longer prepares passers to function in the NFL, there is a very good chance both teams have doomed themselves for years to come.
But the signs are pointing towards Dallas taking the plunge this year just to safeguard against another lost season. And there is always the scant hope that they may find a player who can grow into a legitimate NFL starter. That is why the move to get an additional first-round pick is being considered. The fifth-year option for first-round selections lets a team protect their investment and avoid a situation such as the Denver Broncos found themselves in, where their heir apparent, Brock Osweiler, wound up electing to sign with the Houston Texans, leaving Denver scrambling for a solution following the retirement of Peyton Manning.
So it is time for the fan base to start bracing itself for the Cowboys to spend some valuable draft capital to get a player they will not like. This year's draft class had what were seen as three players worthy of a first round slot, Goff, Wentz, and Paxton Lynch. None were really top two level talents, and only Goff was really seen as a true top five or top ten player based on his being the most NFL ready of the three. All would likely have benefited from sitting a year or two, but when a team spends a top-two draft pick, they cannot really afford to do that. Outside the top three, the flaws of the remaining prospects are manifold, but that is all Dallas has to choose from.
Lynch would be the best option, but he is going to be far too expensive. Again, it is just the writer's opinion, but he is probably going to go in the top half of the first round, perhaps in the top ten spots. Even without more trades (which look very likely at this point), the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, and Broncos, at a minimum, are all looking for a quarterback. The 49ers sit with the seventh-overall pick, and there is a good chance they would pull the trigger on Lynch. If they don't, then one of the other two needy teams will probably make a move to get him, and could even try to jump ahead of the 'Niners.
That leaves the most likely suspects for the Cowboys to target as Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg. Neither name is going to inspire handsprings of joy from the fans, but this is the reality of the league right now. You have to overpay to get a quarterback, or you don't get one. And trying to wait and take someone else just means you are getting a player that is even less impressive. It seems foolish to give up draft picks when there are so many places the Cowboys could use an upgrade - but getting better at the QB2 position may be more important than any other spot on the roster after the team uses the fourth-overall pick on either Jalen Ramsey or Ezekiel Elliott, which seems to be the choice. Both Ramsey and Elliott are among the three or four best players in this draft class, and both are seen in some quarters as the top overall player this year. Short of using the fourth pick to take Lynch, which no one, including the team's brain trust, seems to favor, the Cowboys have to look at the remaining talent and go for what they see as the best option they can get.
The team may still find the price too high for the options mentioned above. Nothing has been set in stone, and Dallas could see teams like the Jets and Broncos get to their target or targets first. Then they would be forced to take one of the other quarterbacks later on, or just kick this can down the road another year. The latter option seems highly unlikely. At some point in the draft, Dallas is almost certain to take a QB. And we as fans are almost certain to let out a collective groan.
That does not mean the team is wrong. The price of a quarterback, even one with a low ceiling, has just become that high. It is a case of pay me now or pay me later, and given the recent history, now is clearly here for the Cowboys. With any free agent options having an even higher cost for the team in terms of cap hits and expected compensation, Dallas has painted itself into a corner. Getting out is not going to be pleasant. Brace yourself.