Cowboys Camp: QB DiNucci Signs $3.39M Deal; Does He Have 'Romo Traits'?
FRISCO - Mike McCarthy and Ben DiNucci just sort of keep bumping into one another. ... and recently DiNucci, the Dallas Cowboys' new rookie quarterback - who over the weekend officially signed his four-year contract (worth $3.39 million with a $95,000 signing bonus) at The Star - has bumped into one of the most flattering comparisons the Jones family can imagine making.
One bump happened again at the end of the NFL Draft, when coach McCarthy's Cowboys made DiNucci, the James Madison quarterback, their seventh-round choice with pick No. 231.
But it happened before that, too. On Jan. 8, as DiNucci was in Frisco to lead his team into the FCS national title game, the Dukes stayed at the Omni hotel at The Star in Frisco. McCarthy - just having been introduced as Cowboys coach - was still living at the hotel.
They found themselves aboard the same elevator.
“I walked right into the elevator and he was standing in the back right of it, and I made it a point to go stand by him,'' DiNucci said via his hometown newspaper. "I introduced myself and just brought up that his brother was my basketball coach and I said, ‘Welcome to Dallas.''
That's right: Mike's brother had coached DiNucci's brother back in Pittsburgh.
But there's more: DiNucci's coach at James Madison is Curt Cignetti. Cignetti’s brother Frank is the offensive coordinator at Boston College. But guess where Frank Cignetti was working in 2018?
Some of this is a "who-you-know'' business, of course; the fact that Frank Cignetti and McCarthy were grad assistants at Pitt in 1989 and then coached together in with the New Orleans Saints 2000 and 2001) and then in Green Bay is significant. But the 6-3, 209-pound DiNucci has some credentials of his own, too, as the Offensive Player of the Year in his conference. In his two seasons with the Dukes, DiNucci completed 70 percent of his throws for 5,716 yards, rushed 1,002 yards and accounted for 61 total touchdowns with a 45/18 TDs-to-interceptions ratio.
And as training camp gets underway here at The Star, who comes to mind for the Cowboys braintrust when they play the "comparison game,'' as owner Jerry Jones surely loves to do?
Said COO Stephen Jones: "(McCarthy) said he's a baller. He's very athletic. Certainly no one is saying he is (the next Tony Romo), but if you remember, (Romo) was a college free agent. (DiNucci) has some of those type of tools, instinctive and seems to make plays."
Stephen is careful to not make the stretch one that will rip in half. But the fellas back in Pittsburgh think a Cowboys connection of some sort was coming all along.
“So about 10 minutes before the Cowboys chose (DiNucci), my brother called me and said ‘I think Mike’s going to take him. What do you think?’” Curt Cignetti said. “I said, ‘No doubt.’ I texted Ben and he said, ‘Yep. Watch, they’re going to take me.’”
Said DiNucci: “Just seeing my name pop up on that TV and having Mr. [Cowboys owner Jerry] Jones call me and tell me they were picking me, I haven’t cried like that in a while.”
DiNucci, McCarthy and the Cignettis all have strong ties in western Pennsylvania, too, where DiNucci was a standout at Pine-Richland High School (about 16 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh) prior to signing with the Panthers of Pitt and eventually transferring to JMU.
But DiNucci and McCarthy may never have met if it wasn’t for coincidence.
“He reminds me of a young Marc Bulger,” McCarthy said of DiNucci to reporters on a Cowboys post-draft conference call.
“(DiNucci)’s a young man that played the position his whole life,” McCarthy continued, “and is going to be an excellent addition to our quarterback room and we’ll continue to develop that room with our other two young guys, and Dak (Prescott).”
Bulger. Romo. Either will do.
Precott has been Dallas’ starting quarterback since 2016 when he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Former Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is also on the Cowboys roster - and of course the new No. 2 is Andy Dalton.
In the 14 NFL Drafts (13 in Green Bay and one in Dallas) McCarthy has been part of as head coach, his teams have chosen six quarterbacks including DiNucci. The idea here is "development'' - just as it was 17 years ago when they grabbed a UDFA from Eastern Illinois named Tony Romo, who possessed similar small-school credentials.
Had DiNucci not been drafted here, he might've signed here anyway, as Romo once did. And why?
“The confidence they had in me,” DiNucci said, “and them being able to say, ‘We want this kid enough to draft him,’ it meant the world to me.''
If he becomes the next Tony Romo? Or the next Marc Bulger? Or even a capable long-term backup QB? Ben DiNucci, at a budget price, will mean the world to the Joneses, too.