The biggest story of 2016 for the Dallas Cowboys was how they wound up with their new franchise quarterback through a combination of good evaluation and just plain luck. Dak Prescott proved to be far more capable than anyone dreamed. Arguably, he represents the greatest first-year return on draft investment ever, not just for Dallas, but for any team.
As good as that is for the Cowboys, it came with the unfortunate downside of ending the career of Tony Romo in Dallas with much more of a whimper than a bang. And it also means that there is a very familiar question facing the Cowboys again this year: Just what do they do about the backup quarterback situation?
In a recent mock draft, SBN draft maven Dan Kadar not only looked at who he projected for teams to take in the first round this year, he also addressed the question of whether each team should draft a quarterback. His answer for Dallas was succinct.
Should they draft a quarterback? Lol
That is funny, as well. It also is pretty much the wrong answer.
With Romo on his way out (and the whole story of where he might end up growing daily), the Cowboys now have exactly zero backup quarterbacks under contract. Kellen Moore and Mark Sanchez are both free agents. Even if the team should re-sign one of them, they still need at least two more camp arms. But camp arms and possible future backups are two different beasts, and the Cowboys have to be looking for the latter. Obviously they are not going to be looking to draft a quarterback early, but on day three, it becomes not just a possibility. It should be something of a priority.
It is certain that the team will want at least one experienced backup going into training camp, and that search would logically begin with Moore and Sanchez. Of the two, Moore would be the more likely option (signing both seems highly improbable). In the first installment of his breakdown of the roster, our own Mark Aggarwal laid out the logic.
Kellen Moore: Second String - As a favorite of Scott Linehan, there is a good possibility the Cowboys will re-sign him to backup Prescott. He knows the Cowboys system, has the trust of the coaches and should come relatively cheap.
That would result in more deja vu all over again, as having Moore as the incumbent backup to the established starter is exactly where the Cowboys were a year ago. Of course, Prescott does not have the injury and age concerns Romo had. But the team was clearly looking to upgrade at the position when they took Prescott in the draft, and that also still applies. The problem with Moore is that his ceiling just looks limited.
What the drafting of Prescott did show was that the staff, especially the coaches, were able to see something that others clearly missed (or at least were unwilling to move on before Dallas got its chance at the end of the fourth round last year). The odds are staggering against finding another Dak this year - but that wasn’t what they thought they had when they took him. They believed at the time they had a developmental quarterback with a lot of upside and good intangibles. This year, they should be combing the available quarterbacks for the same thing. They won’t find a second Dak - but maybe they can find Dak Lite.
The Cowboys have not had a history of taking quarterbacks in the draft in the years before Prescott was selected, but they also had a similar aversion to taking offensive linemen early before a certain Tyron Smith was drafted. His success led to a complete revision of the approach which led to adding Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, and indirectly to La’el Collins as well. Now that they hit the mother lode with Prescott, it would not be surprising to see them go back to that well.
However, this is seen as a relatively weak quarterback class, with no Jared Goff or Carson Wentz creating a sellers’ market for top draft spots to take perceived blue chips. The Cowboys do not want to force things here. They need to stick to their board, which they have been doing fairly well of late. If the value is not there, they will have to go the UDFA route (which, admittedly, they have also had some remarkable success at doing in the not too distant past). They can also consider signing another veteran backup, such as Josh McCown, but that is not a long-term solution. The goal for Dallas is to find a young arm with good football intelligence and processing speed to groom.
The ideal model here is the New England Patriots, who have a long history of drafting quarterbacks, making them look good, flipping them for draft picks, rinse, and repeat. Jimmy Garoppolo is the latest, and we all know about Matt Cassel as well. As much as we love to hate the hoodie, Bill Belichick is a master at this game. And there is nothing wrong with stealing an idea from the best.
What the Cowboys should be hoping for is a QB they have a third- or fourth-round grade on to slip into the sixth or seventh round, the way cornerback Anthony Brown did last year. Brown was the other real draft coup from last year, able to start capably when Morris Claiborne was injured, and now one of the cornerstones for rebuilding the secondary with so many key payers from last year also free agents.
If that happens, the Cowboys need to be ready to pull the trigger. There is no guarantee that they will solve the QB2 issue this time around, but it may take more than one shot at the target. They can’t be shy about making the pick if their scouting backs the move. Like it or not, it is a real need to address this year - as long as everything lines up properly.