The Dallas Cowboys head into Sunday’s matchup with the New York Giants as heavy favorites. If the game goes according to projections, it could allow lesser-seen players to get some valuable playing time. One guy who could certainly use some is third-string quarterback Trey Lance.
Since joining the Cowboys in a late-August trade with the 49ers, Lance has been in the lab and on the practice field but has not taken a snap in a game. He’s been Dallas’ emergency quarterback behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush on game days, only eligible to play if both the starter and backup are injured and declared unable to return.
Thankfully, Lance hasn’t been needed in that capacity so far. But because he hasn’t been fully activated for a game so far this year, it’s also kept him from being playable when the Cowboys have been on one end of a blowout. In three big wins over the Giants, Jets, and Rams, Cooper Rush came in for the victory laps. And when Dallas got creamed by San Francisco in Week 5, Rush played the final possessions.
It’s understandable that Lance hasn’t been active so far. He’s needed time to learn the offense, and the emergency provision has allowed him to provide depth without costing a more necessary backup or special teams player a spot on the active roster for games. But if this game against the Giants is going to be as lopsided as we think, it could be a good time to let the third-year quarterback put in some work.
Making Lance fully active against New York would mean taking someone else off the board. But with WR KaVontae Turpin missing the entire week of practice with a should injury, Dallas could sit him and give Lance that roster spot. They could use RB Rico Dowdle and WR Jalen Tolbert, who are regularly active already, to cover the kick and punt return duties.
Then again, some would like to see RB Deuce Vaughn, who’s been inactive the last few weeks, get back into action if Turpin doesn’t play. If the Cowboys agree, the roster spot could come from any number of other possibilities.
Another way to go, which comes with more risk, is to make Lance QB2 on Sunday and designate Cooper Rush as the emergency option. Again, if something happened to Dak Prescott, that means Lance would also have to be injured before Rush could enter the game. And while nobody’s afraid of the Giants this week, this is still a home game against a division rival. Dallas can ill afford to drop it, both for its lingering hopes in the NFC East and to avoid losing ground in the wild card race.
New York is down to its own third-string quarterback, undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito, after injuries to Tyrod Taylor and Daniel Jones. One would hope that Lance, the third-overall pick in 2021, could outduel DeVito if needed. But he’s with the Cowboys for a reason and it may be too soon to put that much faith in him.
Why am I proposing this? Is playing Trey Lance at all this season necessary? Maybe not in the short term, but Dallas has big decisions to make next offseason at quarterback. The fourth year of Lance’s rookie contract comes with a $5.3 million salary cap hit. The Cowboys would almost have to make him the primary backup at that point and use Cooper Rush’s money to pay for part of it.
While Dallas is seeing Lance’s work during the week, it sure would be nice to see how he handles himself in real games. He only played in six games as a rookie for San Francisco and two last season. That’s a small sample, especially from someone else’s offense.
All that being said, chances are that the Cowboys will maintain course and Trey Lance will once again be just the emergency third quarterback. But these next two games against the Giants and the Carolina Panthers, who are already dreaming about 2024, give them highly winnable games with blowout potential. Cooper Rush doesn’t need the reps, but your developmental quarterback does. It’d be nice if Dallas at least leaves the option open for Lance to play.