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Cowboys free agency focus: Adding experienced QB Andy Dalton as backup is just a smart roster decision

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The Cowboys didn’t add Andy Dalton for any reason other than it’s the smart thing to do.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys had gotten away with having one of the worst contingency plans in the NFL at quarterback for several seasons, until now. Over the weekend, the Cowboys new regime under Mike McCarthy decided to bring in QB Andy Dalton on a one-year deal to bolster the quarterback room.

For the majority of Dak Prescott’s career, he’s looked behind him to see Cooper Rush. Cooper Rush has a total of five game appearances in three seasons, he was one for three, a 33.3% completion percentage, and two whole passing yards to his career. It’s not Cooper’s fault, he just hasn’t been able to get into live action outside of garbage time when the Cowboys had a insurmountable lead. The backup position in Dallas had been untested for three or more years, but they were fortunate to never experience injury trouble.

But just because you have a young, strong, and healthy franchise guy in Dak Prescott doesn’t mean you should skimp on the position as a whole.

A new coach in Mike McCarthy means new values in roster building. Cooper Rush made a soft landing with Jason Garrett in New York. Meanwhile, McCarthy remakes his QB room with a franchise leader, a proven veteran backup, and a developmental project with Ben DiNucci.

Having a strong quarterback room seems to be a major focus for Mike McCarthy who has coached his fair share of great passers in his career. Adding Andy Dalton just makes so much sense for the Dallas Cowboys and it is just another example of smart roster moves the front office has made all offseason. This move has zero to do with the the current contract negotiations with Dak Prescott. Follow the money, Andy Dalton signed a one-year, $3M deal, with incentives that could earn him up to $7M in 2020. That’s far less than the $10M annually they were spending on Kyle Orton some years ago.

The only effect Andy Dalton’s arrival will have on Dak Prescott is that it will give him an experienced backup that has lived the roller-coaster career of a starting NFL quarterback. Andy Dalton was once a heralded young quarterback with the weight of an NFL franchise on his shoulders. Though Dalton’s time as the Bengals’ signal-caller ended after nine seasons with an 0-4 record in the playoffs, it doesn’t mean he can’t be valuable to the Cowboys. When the Cowboys coaches are trying to evaluate the talent of this offense in the preseason, Dalton will be the guy getting most of the preseason play time. Having a backup you can trust to run preseason games and training camp practices is an invaluable evaluation tool for coaches.

In live regular season games, when Dak Prescott is coming to the sidelines looking to for a second opinion on how to exploit the opponent, Andy Dalton is a far better option than what the Cowboys had previously. Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy will be the ultimate voices for Prescott, but don’t shortchange what Dalton can bring to the table.

The Cowboys fan base should feel better about Andy Dalton than they did in the past with veterans like Kyle Orton or Jon Kitna. Jon Kitna is beloved in Cowboys’ lore for his gritty 2010 season but he was just 50-74 in 141 career starts with 60% completion rate, and a 77.4 passer rating. Kyle Orton was a little better but had far less experience, going 42-40 in 87 total games played, his completion rate was 59.5%, and his passer rating was 81.2. Andy Dalton is by far the best backup quarterback the Cowboys have had in a very long time. Dalton has played 133 games, with a win-loss record of 70-61-2, 62% completion rate, and 87.5 passer rating. Dalton is a three-time Pro Bowler, has over 30,000 passing yards and over 200 touchdown passes.

Andy Dalton hasn’t quarterbacked a winning football team since the 2015 season. It hasn’t been a kind four seasons for the Cowboys new backup. While Dak Prescott set rookie records, won two division titles, and won more games than anyone not named Tom Brady, Dalton went 20-35-1 in that same four-year period. In 2019, during Dalton’s starts, the Bengals were an abysmal 2-11 and decided to usher in the Joe Burrow era. Just because Dalton’s last four years have been unsuccessful, doesn’t mean he’s a horrible quarterback. We all know the many factors that tend to escape the blame for losses in the NFL. That blame burden is typically reserved and carried by quarterbacks and coaches.

Without question, the Andy Dalton signing truly is of no real threat to Dak Prescott. They are two very different quarterbacks at this point in their NFL careers. However, not only is this move a very good insurance policy for the Cowboys if the unthinkable happens, it’s simply the right move to have a healthy quarterback room. The Cowboys have made themselves a better football team by upgrading their depth chart at quarterback with Andy Dalton in the fold.