Things can change in a heartbeat in the NFL, and the most common reason is injury. For the Dallas Cowboys, that happened when Kellen Moore broke a bone in his lower leg. Suddenly, the battle for the backup quarterback position was completely different. The coaching staff decided to give Dak Prescott the first shot at the job. The results have been little short of spectacular. While Prescott now looks to have a very bright future in Dallas, this has also left Jameill Showers very much the odd man out. Prior to his injury, many were pulling for him to overtake Moore and become the QB2 while Prescott sat in the third spot as the developmental quarterback. But with Prescott looking more and more like the QB2 and also providing some hope of even more in the long term, Showers is fighting to even make the 53-man roster.
The Cowboys have a history of only carrying two quarterbacks into the regular season. That was the case last year, when they started out with only Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden. Romo’s unfortunate injury in the second game of the season rapidly changed things. They first promoted Moore off the practice squad, and then added Matt Cassel to the mix, moving Moore back to the PS. Moore would be recalled once again after Romo re-injured his collarbone. However, none of the three quarterbacks used while Romo was absent was successful, managing to lead the team to just a single win. This dismal 1-11 showing laid bare that the team had not been wise in its selection and use of backups for Romo.
So far, at least, Prescott has given every indication that he is far more viable as a backup quarterback. Although it has only been in preseason games, his performance has been simply stellar. He brings a combination of physical skill, intelligence, on-field leadership, and confidence that none of the 2015 replacements demonstrated. Further, the coaching staff seems to have a much better grasp of how to utilize him than they ever seemed to have with the replacements last season. There still are two games and several practices before the initial 53-man roster is set, but all signs point to the QB2 job being Prescott’s to lose.
But the emergence of Prescott has left Showers with the scraps in practice and preseason games. While Prescott regularly works with the ones and twos, most of Showers’ chances have come with the threes and fours, with predictable results. Although Showers seems to have some similar traits to Prescott, he simply has not had the opportunity to demonstrate them fully.
Further complicating things is that the Cowboys have a lot of other places they might want to carry a player in place of a QB3 who would hopefully spend every game on the inactive list for game day. Running back, tight end, wide receiver, and the defensive line all could be places the staff might want to go heavy by not putting Showers on the 53.
However, the Cowboys have also not done a stellar job of stocking the quarterback position. In recent years, they have not kept Matt Moore, Alex Tanney, and Dustin Vaughan. All three are now with other teams, vying for jobs. Quarterback is perhaps the hardest position to find viable NFL talent. The fact that three of Dallas’ castoffs, as well as Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel, are all with teams now is an indication of just how desperate the league is for quarterbacks, as well as raising some questions about how well the Cowboys evaluate talent.
Given the fact that Dallas brought Showers back for camp this year and had him focus on the quarterback position (after using him as a multi-purpose practice squad player in 2015) indicates they see some potential in him, at least as a backup option. It would be expected that if they choose to waive him, it would be with the intention of getting him back on the practice squad where he would be ready to be called up just in case, as Moore was last season.
The problem with that is that another team might see Showers as someone they would want on their 53-man roster. He also would be available for anther team to sign to their practice squad, which might be tempting to him if he felt there was more chance for advancement. It seem pretty evident that he would be behind Prescott in any case with Dallas, and there might be other teams where he felt his chances of advancement were better.
That is probably the biggest question for the Cowboys concerning him. Is there a demand for him out there? They sometimes will get inquiries about players on their roster, but teams also can lie in the weeds if they are interested in poaching someone. Even with the lack of good players around him when he has seen the field this preseason, Showers has shown some flashes. It is interesting that in the second game against the Miami Dolphins, he only attempted four passes, with one other play that probably broke down and forced him to scramble. Are the coaches already trying to hide him to increase the chances of getting him through waivers for the PS?
The last couple of preseason games will tell us more in that aspect. The staff could well elect to give Prescott almost all the work in the third and fourth preseason games to help his development, and that would have the side benefit of keeping Showers well under the radar. However, they might also want to give him more work to assist in his own progression.
When you take it all into consideration, the most likely course at the moment would probably be to go with just two quarterbacks and try to get Showers onto the practice squad. Other teams do not have a lot to go on with him, and there are a lot of other options out there. Teams might prefer a known quantity they already have in camp, and there is still the widespread belief that a veteran backup would be more valuable than a player who just has a year on a practice squad with very little work at QB. There is risk of losing Showers, but it is the kind of gamble the Cowboys have had no problem taking in the past. And there are certainly other needs that the team may deem more important that a third quarterback on the 53-man roster. This is just a projection, of course, and may be inaccurate. But it seems to be the way that most closely fits the way the Dallas staff does things.
All that could change, of course. Hopefully it will not be due to an injury. But how Showers is used in the last two preseason games may be an indicator of how the team plans to handle his case. It is one more thing to watch.
(Hat tip to Joey Ickes, Landon McCool, KD Drummond, and Partik Walker, among others, who discussed Showers extensively on Twitter. Their arguments informed this piece, although some of them will likely disagree with the conclusions.)