Former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells once said, “It’s a very easy thing to say, ‘Go get a backup quarterback.’ Now tell me where to get them. You just can’t dial them up.” Parcells’ words have stuck true to this day. It’s hard to find one quality quarterback in this league, let alone two.
Luckily, the Dallas Cowboys have one of the best in football as their starter. Newly re-signed Dak Prescott will be the signal-caller in Dallas for at least the next four years, but where the Cowboys are lacking is behind him on the depth chart. After Andy Dalton departed to Chicago, Dallas was left with 29-year-old Garrett Gilbert as their backup quarterback.
Gilbert, the former sixth-round pick, has had a rather pedestrian NFL career to date. He was drafted in 2014 and spent his first year in professional football with the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots. After that, the former SMU Mustang was out of professional football until 2018 when he latched on with the Carolina Panthers. Gilbert threw just three passes in his Panthers’ career and did the same with the Cleveland Browns in 2019.
The signal-caller then ended up in Dallas, getting his first chance to see some real game action in his four-year NFL career. Gilbert wound up starting against the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. The Cowboys came into the game with a 2-6 record, losers of three straight and five out of their last six games. It’s safe to say the Cowboys were pretty big underdogs, but Gilbert was able to keep them in the game and give them a fighting chance.
Despite eventually losing the game 24-19, Gilbert gave the Cowboys their first taste of adequate quarterback play since Dak Prescott went down. He finished the game 21 of 38 for 243 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran the ball three times for 28 yards including two first-down runs. Gilbert’s PFF offensive grade for the game was 66.4. Not bad for a backup quarterback.
I really loved the footwork of Garrett Gilbert against the Steelers. It was subtle, and he did a very good job pointing his "ankle eye" towards his target. His happy feet allowed him to always be ready to deliver the ball. pic.twitter.com/87ET6O3LLf— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) November 10, 2020
Yes. Here it is - the Garrett Gilbert BIGTIME throw: https://t.co/tuEWqA3jeX pic.twitter.com/orogAT0BAk— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) November 11, 2020
Consider me firmly aboard the Garrett Gilbert hypetrain #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/D7l1W0BiDS— Fake Teams (@faketeams) November 10, 2020
Gilbert played a solid game, but his inexperience caused him to make some key mistakes like the one below. Dallas was leading 19-15 and driving inside the red zone. With a chance to put the game away, Gilbert threw an ill-advised pass into the end zone on third down that was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Minkah Fitzpatrick's interception on Garrett Gilbert in the end zone. Cameron Heyward with the pressure on the play. #Steelerspic.twitter.com/pMesL8ZcLG— Fungible Dave (@FungibleDave) November 15, 2020
Despite the loss, if Dallas could get Gilbert’s performance in that game if they ever had to rely on their backup quarterback again, they would take it. Question is, if Gilbert ever had to play again would he be able to replicate that performance? It’s hard to rely on consistency from a guy who has appeared in just seven games in his NFL career.
If they don’t trust Gilbert, Dallas could look for a cheap veteran option, like former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. But with Gilbert already under contract for 2021, and Dallas looking to use their limited resources to upgrade the defense, is Griffin or another low-level veteran really worth spending some capital on when you have Gilbert on your roster?
The Cowboys' answer to the question above likely will dictate how they approach the backup quarterback spot this offseason.