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Cowboys Backup Quarterback: Is There An Open Competition?

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Jason Garrett preaches competition at all roster positions, but is there an open competition at a key position?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Has Kellen Moore really earned the backup job?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Competition. Jason Garrett preaches it for the Dallas Cowboys at every opportunity. The idea, of course, is to get the best players on the roster, and to drive improvement among all who seek to defend their place. But there is competition, and there are players that are very secure. If you were asked to name the players the Cowboys would put on the field offensively in an 11 set (one running back, one tight end) this fall, you could quickly reel off ten of the names, with the only doubt being who would line up as the WR2 opposite Dez Bryant, and given what is known as well as how things have gone in practice so far, that last name is probably going to be Terrance Williams. Those players have all earned their place by past performance, and have continued to demonstrate their value through the OTAs and minicamp. But at times, there are other members of the roster who seem almost as safe, even though there is far less evidence to show just why the coaching staff seems so taken with them.

One of those players for Dallas appears to be Kellen Moore. He is getting the most snaps at quarterback behind Tony Romo. He has gotten the verbal support of executives Jerry and Stephen Jones, head coach Garrett, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan as the backup quarterback. The reasons for his apparently firm grip on the job of backup quarterback are debatable. He is short for an NFL quarterback, he has questionable arm strength, and his resume is underwhelming.

During the Minicamp Live video from the first day, posted at the mothership, Bryan Broaddus and Nick Eatman spoke about Moore’s status (it starts shortly after the ten minute mark if you want to listen). They share a perception that it's possible Moore is being protected somewhat from competition for the backup job by the coaches. Broaddus admits that he is a Jameill Showers fan and would like to see the second-year player have more of a shot at challenging for the position.

Such speculation must always be considered carefully. The coaches who make these kinds of decisions work closely with the players involved and of course have far more knowledge about things than even team insiders like Broaddus and Eatman. There is a cause for some uneasiness about that, however. The staff was fully behind Brandon Weeden as the backup to Romo, at least in all their public statements, and we all still have searing memories of how things went when Weeden had to step into the starting job after the first of Romo’s clavicle fractures last season. And as Eatman pointed out in the video, bringing in Matt Cassel did not work out any better for the team. While a better backup would probably not have saved the season (and may have only accomplished costing the team the chance to draft Ezekiel Elliott, on which so many plans for this year hinge), no one should want a repeat of the Great Debacle of 2015 if something should befall Romo again. More importantly, the team also has to be ready for a shorter absence by the starter. A backup needs to be able to win some games, especially with the stellar supporting cast they should have offensively.

The fact remains that it is hard to see the reasons for locking in on Moore from the outside. Given the trepidation many had about Weeden, that is not necessarily an invalid viewpoint. For some time, it has seemed apparent that Linehan is the president of the Moore fan club and the main factor in his incumbency as the backup. If there is indeed shielding going on for Moore, Linehan is almost certainly the shield-bearer.

This still leaves the question of whether that is in the best interests of the team. While unproven at this point, Showers certainly appears to have opened some eyes. He may still be a player that the team can successfully get to the practice squad for future development, but the real issue is whether he can surpass Moore as the backup now, or during training camp and preseason games. That is hard for him to do if Moore keeps hogging the snaps behind Romo. Due to the CBA limitations on practice, there are precious few of those to go around. Less practice makes it harder for a player to put his best effort on the field when he does get into a preseason game. Additionally, the team is likely to try and give as many plays during those games to Moore as the expected backup as possible. Romo of course has to have a certain number of plays to polish his game after missing so much time in 2015, and Dak Prescott is next in line after Moore as a draft pick who is hoped to be a long-term solution as the QB2. Showers is stuck with the leftovers, which may not be many chances at all.

This is not a result of any decision to take snaps away from other quarterbacks in favor of Moore as much as a function of how the scarce resource is allocated when you have a clearly defined depth chart in camp. The starter gets the most, the backup gets a certain amount, and any remaining quarterbacks on the roster are basically stuck with a limited number of leftovers. The issue here is that the depth chart seems predetermined, which will put Moore in an advantageous position. If there was a true competition going on behind Romo, then there should be a more equitable distribution of snaps. Judging from the admittedly limited view of the minicamp videos, Moore does seem to be seeing a number of plays consistent with already owning the backup QB job.

Prescott should also not be overlooked in all this as a possible challenger for the backup job. Although it was expected that the transition to the pro game would be difficult for him, reports are that he is already looking much more comfortable operating from under center than was anticipated. And like Showers, he brings a much stronger arm and far greater mobility to the field than Moore.

If there was an open competition for the QB2 job this year, then Moore, Prescott, and Showers should be getting a more equal level of work. The quarterbacks not named Romo should all have to earn a greater share of time, both in practice and preseason games. It does not appear that is the case. Moore is apparently getting a larger number of plays to work on his game. Perhaps he is earning those in the eyes of the coaches, but if it is because of a pre-determined decision, then the team may just be hurting itself. Admittedly, the team may feel it needs to make the decision now in order to help Moore get up to speed - but if one of the other quarterbacks were to play better than him with a roughly equal chance, is working on improving Moore the way to go?

As fans, we are left hoping for one of two things if something does happen to Romo (which we all earnestly wish heaven to forbid). Either Moore surprises us and works out as a competent backup, or at some point before the season, either Prescott or Showers (or maybe even both) prove to be the better option to the coaches despite the handicaps they labor under.

If you still harbor doubts about the direction the Cowboys are going at backup QB, there is justification. It is going to be a situation to watch all through camp. Just hope that they get this one right - and that Romo stays healthy all season and beyond so we don’t really have to worry about it in the first place.

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