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Debunking the myth about Cowboys quarterback scouting and development

There’s plenty of criticism for Dallas’ offseason work with quarterbacks. Is it really valid?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With Cooper Rush a free agent and Dak Prescott coming off a down year, quarterback is a hot topic for the Cowboys’ 2023 offseason. Discussion around how Dallas has handled its scouting and development of QBs in the past has been mostly negative, but is that really fair?

One of the more common statements you’ll see is that the Cowboys lucked or stumbled into Dak Prescott and Tony Romo as their last two starters. While Dallas has certainly gotten plenty of mileage out of a former fourth-round pick and undrafted free agent, the notion that it was all some happy accident is disrespectful to the people who made it happen.

Let’s start with Prescott. A fourth-round pick is hardly some worthless commodity, showing the Cowboys clearly believed in Dak to have potential for the future. Outside of Stephen McGee in 2009 (also a fourth), the Prescott pick is the highest that Dallas has taken a QB since using a second-rounder on Quincy Carter in 2002.

Dallas’ selection of Prescott has always come with the asterisk that they really wanted Paxton Lynch in the first round and preferred Connor Cook over Prescott in the fourth round. While both of these things are true, other teams clearly shared the Cowboys’ belief in these guys’ potential. Both the Broncos and Raiders, respectively, traded up to select Lynch and Cook when they did.

Sure, nobody could’ve imagined that Prescott would have the immediate impact he did in Dallas. The rest of the NFL certainly didn’t expect it, either, given that he fell to the bottom of the fourth round. But it was the Cowboys who ultimately made the decision to add Prescott and the results have been spectacular for where he was drafted. The details about Lynch and Cook aside, they still deserve credit for seeing Dak’s potential and having him ready to step in for Tony Romo so quickly.

Speaking of Romo, he’s one of the NFL’s great rags-to-riches stories. But while Romo did join the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, his rise to the starting job was far from immediate. He didn't take over for Drew Bledsoe until Week 6 of the 2006 season, nearly three-and-half years after signing with Dallas in 2003.

While Romo’s career as a multi-time Pro Bowler, with a few missing big wins in the post-season for a potential Hall of Fame résumé, was impossible to predict, it hardly came about by happenstance. He was groomed for multiple offseasons by Sean Payton, Bill Parcells, and others. The Cowboys saw enough to keep carrying him as a third QB on the depth chart and even denied Payton’s attempts to bring Romo with him to New Orleans in 2006.

Scouting got Prescott and Romo their opportunities in Dallas. Development made them the valued members of franchise history that they are today.

While we’re at it, how about Cooper Rush? From his undrafted beginnings in 2017 to a 5-1 record as a starter the last two years, Rush is another excellent in the organization’s cap when it comes to QB evaluation and training. He’s about to become one of the most attractive backup options in this year’s free agency market.

Sure, the record is hardly spotless. We’ve already mentioned the team’s good fortune to not end up with Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook instead of Prescott in 2016. We also brought up that Stephen McGee pick in 2009; a relative bust who never looked competent in three years with Dallas and then failed to catch on with Houston.

More recently, the Cowboys have wasted draft picks on Mike White in 2018 (fifth round) and Ben DiNucci in 2020 (seventh round). White only lasted a year in Dallas, getting dumped after the 2019 preseason in favor of another poor choice in Clayton Thorson. He has since caught on with the Jets and been a respectable starter at times. If anything, Dallas may have cut White loose too soon or just had the wrong system for him.

DiNucci stuck around long enough for that one disastrous start against the Eagles in 2020 and is now trying to make something happen in the XFL. While expectations were never realistically high for a seventh-rounder, nor should they be, DiNucci hardly followed in Rush or Romo’s footsteps as a pleasant surprise.

The next quarterback that the Cowboys draft may not be a good one, either. History shows that every team has had its wins and losses. But this notion that Dallas doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to evaluating or developing QBs is clearly not accurate. They’ve received some incredible returns on minimal investments, and they’ve had to put in real work to both draft the right guys and guide them to success.

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