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Not taking backup quarterback seriously isn’t a new thing for the Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys backup QB situation has long been an issue.

Dallas Cowboys v Denver Broncos Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

There is a problem on the Dallas Cowboys roster at the moment. No, we are not here to talk about the depth at tackle (which is real). Just how much we trust the kickers is a different thing (also a real thing). We have somewhat paused how we feel about wide receiver for the moment (concern is very real early on in the season).

Right now, we are only focusing on the backup quarterback position.

The first preseason game of the year confirmed what training camp began to tell us in that veteran Cooper Rush does not seem fit to be one moment away from being the most important player on the team. Who an NFL team’s QB2 is obviously is not of the same sort of consequences as other positions, and while you do not want to have to consider the reality where their status is elevated, you are not doing your job properly if you are not preparing for the worst case scenario.

Many are wondering how the Cowboys can possibly feel comfortable with Rush so close to the most important role on the team. Unfortunately treating backup quarterback in a bit of a cavalier way is not a new thing for this team, not by any stretch.

Generally speaking the Cowboys have not sought out legitimate options for their backup quarterback

It seems fair for the purposes of this exercise and conversation to focus on just the Dak Prescott era given that we are talking about backup quarterbacks and the top backup in question is, well, backing him up.

With that being the case we have six seasons to assess (2016-2021) in the past and we are all obviously headed into 2022. Here are the players who were the the effective primary backups to Dak Prescott for each of those seasons:

  • 2016: Mark Sanchez (some would say Tony Romo, obviously a unique situation)
  • 2017: Cooper Rush (a rookie UDFA at the time who beat out current OC Kellen Moore)
  • 2018: Cooper Rush
  • 2019: Cooper Rush
  • 2020: Andy Dalton (who was called upon but also got hurt which led to other players)
  • 2021: Cooper Rush (in his second stint with the team, he beat out Garrett Gilbert for the job)

Obviously the first year involved here is a bit unique given the way that Dak Prescott ascended to the position of starting quarterback in the first place. Dallas was counting on Tony Romo to return from injury in 2016, and banked on a young Kellen Moore to be his top backup but he was injured during camp which elevated Prescott, Two injuries opened the door for young Dakota. The Cowboys brought in Mark Sanchez to back up rookie Dak Prescott and obviously had Tony Romo do so when he was healthy once again.

So if we look forward to 2017 once the team had a new established player under center, what was their first way of handling QB2 after learning literally just a year before how precious time with your starter can be? They went with an undrafted free agent in Cooper Rush.

Now that statement in and of itself is a bit unfair to Rush as he played lights out during his first preseason. He helped push Moore into coaching so he has had a rather seismic impact on the team as a whole, but it isn’t unfair to say that going with him was a huge risk.

Dallas didn’t just go with Rush for his first season in the NFL in 2017, they stuck with him as Dak Prescott’s primary backup for three whole years. Not to get too lost in hypotheticals but if Jason Garrett had not been moved on from in 2020, and if Dak Prescott still got hurt later that year, it is highly possible that Cooper Rush would have been the quarterback who took over as opposed to Andy Dalton.

Andy Dalton was the best type of decision that the Cowboys have made at QB2 in a long time and they have strayed from it

Speaking of! People regard the Andy Dalton “era” as a failure in Dallas because the 2020 season was so awful as a whole, but he was the perfect kind of signing for your backup quarterback.

Dalton was clearly not fit to be a full-time starting quarterback anymore by 2020 which is why things didn’t totally work out for him with this team. But he was the perfect kind of signing for the hypothetical game that your starter had to miss (which happened just a year later to the Cowboys) and that is why we celebrated the team signing him initially.

If you allow yourself to acknowledge that Dalton was the right “type” of signing then it is easy to see how he was the largest level of commitment that this team has shown to QB2 in the entire Prescott era. It was a highly encouraging sign of what was then the future of Mike McCarthy’s own era, but we have seen regression in this department when it comes to building the roster.

What do we mean exactly? Well after the 2020 season the Cowboys did what they have done in the past and decided to rest on their laurels to a degree by putting all of their eggs in the Garrett Gilbert basket. This is, of course, the very same Garrett Gilbert who almost beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020 (while Dalton was hurt) which was used as a justification of sorts for believing in him. Rightly so to a degree.

But throughout camp and the preseason last year it became obvious that Gilbert was not who was best-suited to back up Dak Prescott. Incidentally, it was the returning Cooper Rush who the Cowboys brought back after a cup of coffee with his old friend Jason Garrett and the New York Giants.

Amazingly, the Cowboys did the same thing with Rush this offseason that they did with Gilbert a year ago. The way that Dallas “believed” in Gilbert’s performance against the Steelers they have “believed” in the win that Cooper Rush was able to help pull off last season against the Minnesota Vikings. Gilbert’s Steelers game and Rush’s Vikings game confirmed the priors that the regime has had with each different quarterback.

Just like with Gilbert one trip around the sun ago, we sit here scratching our heads at how the Cowboys were so passive with their backup quarterback situation again. They seemingly assumed things would work out in 2022 with Rush because he won a game on Halloween against a Mike Zimmer team that was not very good.

To date PFF has graded 82 quarterbacks in the preseason and Cooper Rush ranks 77th in passing grade. The sample size is admittedly small, but the process of how we got here looks and smells just like the one of old. Dallas relied on comfort instead of thinking outside the box like they did with Andy Dalton two years ago. Here we are with nowhere left to turn but towards Will Grier who is currently coming off of a groin injury and someone we have never seen play any kind of game for the Cowboys yet is still a more preferable option than Rush to many.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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