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Valuing backup quarterbacks: Cowboys have a very good deal in Andy Dalton

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PFF takes a look at the QB2 position across the league, and not only give Dallas fans something to be pleased about, but provides some always welcome avenues for throwing shade at the rest of the NFC East.

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Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals
Two of the best backups in the league. (snicker)
Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

You know the football news is a bit scarce when the analytics folks at PFF take a deep dive into the comparative bang for the buck of NFL backup quarterbacks, the one player on most rosters that their team least wants to see take the field. The only bigger indication of how we are so eager for anything to cover is that I am now turning that into a post about the Dallas Cowboys and their newly hired QB2 Andy Dalton.

Be warned, there may be a few passages here that are a wee bit tongue-in-cheek. In a time when so much gloom is going on outside of sports, if you are looking for a little break, hopefully this will provide that.

PFF dove into two components of the value of the backup quarterback. The obvious one is just how well he can come in and maintain success for his team. While everyone hopes that their starter is worthy of the job and will stay healthy all season, the game sometimes decides to throw a big old injury monkey wrench into the works. And for those unfortunates, having a good backup is pretty huge, as PFF illustrates with some recent (and painful for Cowboys fans) history.

Be that as it may, a fair share of backup quarterbacks have made the most of their opportunities in the past few years, headlined by Nick Foles — who led the Philadelphia Eagles to a win over backup Case Keenum’s Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game, before beating Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII. Ryan Tannehill, who opened 2019 as the Tennessee Titans‘ backup quarterback behind former first-round pick Marcus Mariota, earned more than two wins above replacement and led the league in a number of passing categories en route to the AFC Championship Game. Even Matt Moore, who went 1-1 in then-reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes’ stead, played a part in the Kansas City Chiefs earning a first-round bye in 2019 and an eventual Super Bowl title.

Yeah, that first sentence isn’t exactly a knee-slapper for us. But the point is valid. Foles and Tannehill both had significant success, which not only was reflected in playoff wins, but also netted them some nice further paydays. It didn’t lead to much in the way of continued success for Foles, though, who seemed to have either had his one great run or just benefited greatly from his coaching.

Teams really don’t even like to consider or prepare for their QB2 coming in to play meaningful games, as former Indianapolis Colts OC Tom Moore once succinctly observed. (Warning: Language NSFW. Even at home.) And for a long time, that was definitely the case in Dallas. We have seen a parade of untested UDFAs and castoff veterans as the backup for the Cowboys, and that did not work out well at all in the lost season of 2015. But that quickly changed through a combination of Mike McCarthy bringing a different vision to the Star and the unexpected availability and willingness of Dalton to be the backup. Now Dallas has arguably the best backup in the league in terms of his pedigree.

It isn’t just that he has shown he can lead a team to wins when he has the right coaching and supporting cast. With his $3 million dollar base cost, unless he earns bonus money that only comes into play if he should be called upon, he also ranks well on the other factor PFF looked at, cost. While they found that a QB on a rookie contract who also has legitimate NFL talent is by far the best situation, they also determined that a contract at or below that $3M level is not a bad way to go, either.

So how does Dalton rank overall? They include him in the category of “QBs who can be eventual starters,” of which they only see six currently filling backup spots in the league. That list also includes names like Jacoby Brissett, Mariota, Mitchell Trubisky, and Jameis Winston, all of whom have more question marks associated with them than Dalton.

In addition to the possible starters group, PFF also has three first-rounders waiting in the wings, which is their preferred approach to the whole backup situation. By that logic, Dallas is in the top ten of all teams with their current situation, and as mentioned, almost certainly top five when you look at the rest of the names involved.

That’s good for the Cowboys. While perusing the list, there are also some nuggets to be found about the rest of the NFC East that, naturally, are of some interest to us.

First, they do have a bit of confusion concerning the Philadelphia Eagles, listing their true starter, Jalen Hurts, as the backup to Carson Wentz. We all know what is really going on as the Eagles made the necessary move to prepare for Wentz not finishing the season.

Yes, that’s a bit we do, but the reality of how Wentz has struggled with injury is no joke. We had a good laugh when they spent a second-round pick on Hurts. However, there may be a great deal of wisdom in that move, even if Hurts does just wind up as an insurance policy they don’t cash in on. The price of a second-round rookie deal is certainly right.

Washington, as we have come to expect, sort of falls into one of the not great categories, with their projected QB2, Kyle Allen, seen as “little to no shot to start in the NFL” in their words. Some things just never seem to change.

As for the New York Giants, there is either an oversight or some massive disrespect in this article, because they do not rate an entry in any category, despite having both Colt McCoy and former Cowboy Cooper Rush on the roster. Perhaps they just didn’t know who was the QB2. But if McCoy is not seen as having a clear lead over the very untested and unproven Rush, then that is not good. Rush was seen as a very inadequate solution when he was backing up Dak Prescott. If he wins the job under Jason Garrett, who clearly has a puzzling attachment to the fellow redhead, they might be in trouble should Daniel Jones go down or struggle mightily. Or, maybe PFF just doesn’t like the Giants.

Enough picking on the rivals. The pertinent thing is that the Cowboys have taken a very positive step towards ensuring their viability should (knock most vigorously on wood) something happen to Prescott. It is especially encouraging should he just need to miss a few games, as happened to the Chiefs last year. And it allows them the ability to let him sit out if he is a bit banged up, rather than forcing him to play through an injury he should be resting, as happened in the second Eagles game last year. It’s also worth mentioning the added value Dalton brings for working with the second-team players and in preseason games, where he will contribute more to the development of the depth around him than Rush probably did in the past couple of years.

Dalton isn’t just good, he is a relative bargain. You have to like that.