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Hot Topic: The Cowboys’ Quarterback Controversy Examined

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A quarterback controversy in Dallas? Is it real, or just a fevered dream?

NFL: Preseason-Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys
Can the apprentice supplant the master?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest news of the year for the Dallas Cowboys all centers around Dak Prescott, the amazingly poised and capable rookie taken with a supplemental fourth-round pick. He is without a doubt the main reason the Cowboys are 2-1 without Tony Romo, and had a real chance at being 3-0 if not for a couple of time-wasting decisions to not go out of bounds by Lance Dunbar and Terrance Williams in the season opener. As Todd Archer wondered in an article at ESPN, can you imagine how things might have gone had Kellen Moore not been injured? Instead of being a project who might become a decent backup, Prescott is now the great hope as the future franchise QB. Right now, he is a proven winner who has led the team to the first back-to-back wins without Romo since the first two games under Jason Garrett. The team is in better shape at quarterback than it has been since the days when Roger Staubach was on the roster with Craig Morton, or when he was on the roster with Danny White. Things are going well. So of course, the fires of a quarterback controversy are being fanned.

The subject is everywhere. Colin Cowherd is already talking about Romo’s employment opportunities with other teams. Joe Theisman says he should never play in Dallas again. Boomer Esieason likens Prescott to Staubach. Drew Bledsoe, who lost his starting job to Romo (after previously being supplanted by Tom Brady with the New England Patriots) wonders if the same fate will befall Romo at Prescott’s hands. And quite a number of fans are getting right on board the ‘kick Romo to the curb’ train.

All of this completely ignores the plan of the Dallas staff that remains unchanged. When Romo is ready to go, he is the starter. Prescott has just taken away any pressure to rush Romo back. And there are still several games to go before Romo will return. We still may see Prescott stumble, although fans of the team certainly hope he doesn’t. But right now, there is no controversy in the only place it really matters, the Star at Frisco.

That is how it should be. Romo is too good when he is healthy to be supplanted by a rookie, no matter how much expectations are exceeded. The team and the coaches believe in the veteran, because they have seen over the course of the years just how much he can do both when he is surrounded by talent and when he has had to take the team on his shoulders.

Prescott does bring some things to the table that are different and in some ways better than what Romo does, particularly his ability to make plays with his legs. The coaches have done an outstanding job of playing to his strengths and putting him in a position to thrive, while minimizing his weak areas and allowing him time to work on those. But Romo has his own strengths. Most important is how he can dissect a defense, making adjustments and changing plays to exploit what he is facing. Prescott is coming along much faster than could be imagined in that aspect, but he is still years away from the mastery Romo has on the field. Arguably, Romo is the best in the game at this now that Peyton Manning has gone into doing commercials. Additionally, Romo is very good at the deep ball, perhaps the biggest weakness for Prescott at the moment.

Prescott has thrived so far operating with the Dallas offensive line (even with the injuries to La’el Collins and Tyron Smith), the talented receiving corps led by Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley, and the emerging Ezekiel Elliott. What the team is betting on is that Romo will be even more potent behind center when he returns. Of course they are going to give him the reins again when he is ready to go.

The quarterback controversy is mostly a media invention to generate interest, ratings, and internet traffic. The Prescott/Romo dynamic is a click-generator’s dream. Romo has always been a polarizing figure, starting with the fumbled field goal attempt against the Seattle Seahawks. His infrequent mistakes at the end of games overshadow just how good he has actually been in winning games under duress. That is what the team wants to get back on the field.

Just as the big game by Elliott silenced the silly calls for Alfred Morris to become the starting running back, a couple of good games by Romo will put the quarterback nonsense to rest. Dallas will go forward with the knowledge that, should the unthinkable happen again, they are in the best shape of any NFL team at backup quarterback.

However, there is one way for a real controversy to develop, and that is if Romo does not perform well once he gets on the field. He has been idle for weeks, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that he will have some rust to work off. If it takes more than a game for him to get back in form, and the teams loses a couple of games, then the demands of fans and the media to put Prescott back in will roar back to life far stronger than what we see now. Given Jason Garrett’s history, Romo will get a lot of time to work things out, but he is going to have to prove he is still the same or very near to what he was before last season. That is something that can only be proven on the field, and until he gets back out there, we don’t really know how it will play out.

For now, though, that is still unknown, and history would indicate that Romo will be back and able to keep the team moving forward. Until the team finds out differently, that is how things have to be handled. If things start to deteriorate, the firestorm around the Cowboys will be huge. But don’t go borrowing trouble before it manifests itself. For now, we should hope for the best, and leave the controversy to those who live on such things.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB