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Cowboys roster breakdown: They have to get quarterback right

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Plus a look at the specialists - but we know who you are really interested in.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

We’re to the end of this series of posts breaking down the current state of the Dallas Cowboys roster by position. We’ll take a quick look at the specialists, but first, let’s examine the elephant that has taken up residence in the room.

Quarterback

It’s only the most important position on any NFL roster.

Currently under contract

  • Clayton Thorson

Yeah, that’s not exactly where they want to be.

Current free agents

  • Dak Prescott
  • Cooper Rush

There’s the rub, to steal a phrase. The starter and backup from last year are set to be free agents. It is not exactly the situation a team likes to face, no matter how much cap space it has available.

There is no real reason to look at outside free agents or top draft prospects. Despite the multitude of proposals floating around both social and “real” media to find someone to take Prescott’s place, there is really no alternative for Dallas other than getting a new deal done with him. He has already hinted that if he is tagged he will not report until a longer term deal is worked out. The exact gap between what the team wants and he is demanding is not known, but may include all of the major elements - per-year salary, guarantees, and length.

Many have criticized the Cowboys for not getting a deal done last year, before the price tag went up as it inevitably does each season. However, there was no real reason for Prescott to agree to a deal then unless the team was willing to up the price tag significantly. He and his agent could see where QB contracts were headed, and made the calculation that he would wind up with more money in the long run if he played out his rookie deal.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys moved on from Jason Garrett as head coach and hired Mike McCarthy. There was a general housecleaning of the coaching staff, with only three exceptions. One was Leon Lett, who apparently impressed McCarthy and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan enough to keep his job. The other two were Kellen Moore, who was retained as offensive coordinator, and Doug Nussmeier, who moved from tight ends to quarterbacks coach.

McCarthy, Moore, and Nussmeier are part of the team going all in on Prescott as their franchise quarterback. The new head coach was brought in largely to get more out of the offensive weapons, with Prescott the biggest one. Correctly or not, Garrett was seen as not properly using the offensive firepower at his disposal while probably not exploiting Moore’s offense to its best advantage, and correcting that is one of McCarthy’s biggest assignments. The other two were retained to maintain continuity for Prescott, particularly Nussmeier.

The Cowboys will not let Dak go in free agency. Just accept that, and the fact that the floor for his next deal is around $35 million annually, with a guarantee likely in the $75 to $100 million range. With Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, and Ryan Tannehill all looking for new deals (in the case of Brees, back with the New Orleans Saints) it is preferable for Dallas to get things done sooner than later. If the other aforementioned free agents QBs start getting big annual numbers, Prescott’s agent will just up the demands. And big numbers are far more likely for all those quarterbacks than some kind of “team friendly” deals.

Backup quarterback is still also an issue, but the Cowboys are neither going to sign a pricey veteran backup or use serious draft capital. They can try to re-sign Rush, which would probably be the way to go as long as McCarthy raises no objections, or they will go into camp with some UDFAs or really under-the-radar free agents competing for the backup job.

If the Cowboys deviate from the course of locking Prescott up for four or more years, then just go ahead and stock up on your torches and pitchforks, because it will be time to riot.

Specialists

They are often kind of overlooked, so we’ll mention them here.

Currently under contract

  • P Chris Jones
  • K Tristan Vizcaino

Jones had a down year in 2019. The Cowboys probably will have someone in camp to compete with him.

Current free agents

  • K Kai Forbath
  • LS L.P. Ladouceur

It would not be surprising for both of them to be re-signed for camp. There is always the question of whether Ladouceur might finally decide to retire - he’s 38 and has been in the league for 15 years. If he doesn’t, the job is his to have unless he has a sudden decline. Forbath already has competition in Vizcaino, but don’t be surprised to see a series of kickers come in during camp for tryouts.

Again, anyone else brought in as competition or just camp bodies to share the load will be either UDFAs or low-price free agents.

Links to earlier installments in this series:

Wide receiver

Running back and tight end

Offensive line

Defensive tackle

Defensive end

Linebackers

Safety

Cornerback