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Taking Moore Chances: The Logic And Risks Of The Cowboys' Approach To Backup Quarterback

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Getting a better backup for Tony Romo was supposed to be a priority for Dallas this offseason. Is Kellen Moore really the answer?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Kellen Moore
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One of the top priorities for the Dallas Cowboys was making sure they have a better situation at backup quarterback for 2016 than they did during the Great Debacle of 2015. But at this point, the team seems content to roll with still unproven former free agent Kellen Moore, who has never quarterbacked an NFL win, fourth-round compensatory pick Dak Prescott, and former UDFA Jameill Showers, who spent his rookie year as a scout team jack-of-all-trades, and is just now devoting himself full time to the quarterback situation. This seems a very questionable way to approach this season. Tony Romo appears to be fully healthy and in better shape from the start of OTAs than he has in years. Still, his recent injury history raises a very real question of whether the Cowboys are setting themselves up for another disappointment.

Why in the world would the brain trust of the team feel this was a good way to go?

There are several reasons. We will have to see how the season plays out to judge if this was a valid approach, but here are what seem to be the driving factors that led us to this.

First, Dallas had a common problem that faced all the franchises in the league that are not already set up at quarterback, including the backup spot. There is simply a paucity of good passers/signal-callers in the league. If you are a good free agent backup QB in the NFL, you are not looking for another place to be insurance for the starter. You are looking for a starting job, with a starter's paycheck. That is why Brock Osweiller is the man for the Houston Texans instead of the defending champion Denver Broncos. It is why Ryan Fitzpatrick is spurning the deal on the table from the New York Jets. With only about 15 to 20 legitimate starters available, nearly half the teams in the league are trying to find a way to succeed with players who should be standing on the sidelines, not out there running the starting offense. This has put upwards pressure on the price tag for even marginally competent backups. Dallas has clearly taken a firm position against overpaying in free agency. They did make a run at Matt Moore, but when that fell through, they surveyed the remaining options and elected to sit that part of the market out in free agency.

The draft was of course the next path to acquire a good backup or even a possible heir for Romo at some point. Going into the draft, there were three quarterbacks seen as being likely starters. Two of them became far too expensive well before draft day, however, as the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles paid extremely high prices in draft picks to trade up and take Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. And there is an open question of whether either of them are going to be ready this season. The evolution of the college game has made the quarterbacks coming out less and less prepared for the NFL game. Attempts to adapt pro offenses to better fit what the quarterbacks have been doing in the no-huddle spread offenses used by most colleges have been largely unsuccessful so far. Of the top two picks, Goff is probably closer to being ready to step in, but he is still likely to have to undergo a very painful learning process.

The third quarterback seen as a future pro quarterback that was likely to succeed, Paxton Lynch, was a target for the Cowboys, who were willing to package picks this year to try and trade up for him. However, the Seattle Seahawks preferred the offer from the Broncos, who felt they needed to go after Lynch because of what happened with Osweiller. With Lynch off the table, Dallas had to lower their sights and look for a player whose ceiling was more likely as a career backup with only a slight chance of being groomed as a future starter. They were reportedly interested in Connor Cook, but saw him taken one pick ahead of their slot at 101 by the Oakland Raiders. (This was widely seen by fans as a good thing, because there are some troubling reports about Cook's demeanor with his college team.) The Cowboys finally selected a quarterback with their compensatory fourth-round pick. Prescott was a very productive college player who comes with none of the possible red flags that were associated with Cook, but like the first round QBs taken this year, he is not expected to be ready to be effective this season.

That leaves Moore as the apparent number two, pending any developments in training camp and the preseason that might lead the team to decide that Showers is a better option. That seems a very long shot. Jerry and Stephen Jones have both expressed confidence in him as the QB2. Scott Linehan is his biggest fan, no matter how hard it is for fans to see why. And Jason Garrett is also supporting him, although the way he expresses it leaves a bit of an uneasy feeling.

"He's not a guy that overly impresses you physically," Garrett said. "He's not an imposing figure when he walks into the room. He doesn't have an overly powerful arm. He's not overly athletic. But he has a lot of the things that really good quarterbacks have. He understands the game. He has a good feel for the game. He's instinctive. He's a very accurate passer. He's a quick decision-maker. And he's a very good leader."

Even Moore speaks about himself in terms that do not exactly reek with self-confidence.

So it appears the Cowboys are rolling into the season with a backup QB who does not have a lot of ability to take the top off a defense. The argument has been made that the team realizes that if Romo is lost, so is the season. Last year certainly supports that.

The problem is that it looks at losing Romo for the rest of the year if he is hurt. In that case, the backup is probably not going to be able to salvage things, even with the dynamic running game that Ezekiel Elliott is expected to bring. However, what if Romo suffers a minor setback, something that will keep him off the field for four games or so? And what if being able to win a couple of the games he misses is the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home in January?

This is the scenario where having a competent backup can make all the difference. And that is why putting all the eggs in the Moore basket seems depressing.

But is Moore really the only choice at this point? The staff, particularly Stephen Jones, have repeatedly said that talent acquisition is a year-round endeavor. Even as the team continues to say things indicating faith in Moore, there are still rumors floating about other directions that the team might go. In the past couple of days, a report surfaced about a standing offer on the table for Mike Glennon, currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That was quickly debunked by Mike Fisher, although his tweets about it are not embedded here because of their frequent use of a term referring to a substance commonly shoveled out of stables. Suffice it to say that three different sources with the Cowboys were downright derisive about the idea.

However, Glennon is not the only name being bandied about. Nick Foles has also come up. He is currently on the Rams' roster, and the drafting of Goff has made his position there tenuous. If he is released, he could conceivably be of interest to Dallas. Foles had one truly outstanding season with the Philadelphia Eagles, but the jury remains out as to how much of his success was due to the league having to come up with an effective way to defend the innovations of renowned football genius Chip Kelly (one of those hurry-up, no-huddle attempts that didn't turn out so well). Still, a release of Foles by the Rams would likely come late in the preseason, when the Cowboys would have a much better idea of what Moore really brings to the table.

And, to paraphrase Jerry Jones, just because the staff is saying something is so, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is so. With Moore the only game in town at the moment, you don't expect the spokesmen for the team to be undercutting him. Despite the nearly paternal affection Linehan has for Moore, others may have a clear eye in evaluating him, and even Linehan may not be as enamored of Moore as we might be led to believe. Bryan Broaddus, who tends to report on what is actually being said around the headquarters of the Cowboys, had this to say about the team's interest in another solution.

The plan right now appears to be giving Moore every opportunity to prove himself, but that does not mean Dallas could not go in a different direction if things do not work out. They have both Prescott and Showers as internal alternatives, and can still go after a free agent if they see one who offers sufficient ability at a price they find acceptable. They are betting on Moore for now, but don't interpret that as being all in just yet.