It was nice to hear Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones say earlier this week that the Cowboys are keeping their eye on the free-agent market when it comes to quarterback.
Why? Because, after three preseason games, I’ve seen enough. Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci combined don’t add up to one Dak Prescott.
The litmus test for backup quarterback is actually a pretty simple one. If the starter gets hurt, you should feel comfortable with the backup playing in the starter’s place. Hopefully it’s just for a few games and not most of the season, as Andy Dalton did a year ago. But you have to think about the ‘nuclear scenario,’ too, which the Cowboys experienced last year.
Do you really want Gilbert, Rush or DiNucci starting 11 games, much less one or two, in 2021? Of course you don’t. But, as it stands right now, that’s what Cowboys fans would be stuck with unless something changes.
And that’s a bad scenario. I’m writing this after Rush actually had a solid game, one that might have actually nudged him back into the race to be the second-string quarterback. But that’s how little it took. It speaks to how close the race is and, well, how far ahead Prescott is in front of the three of them.
Said coach Mike McCarthy after the Saturday preseason loss to Houston: “We have one more week (for Gilbert to battle Rush), and we’re going to need it.”
As our Mike Fisher noted on Saturday before the game, Jones told 105.3 The Fan that “player acquisition is 365 days a year.” He also acknowledged that Gilbert and Rush are not just competing against each other “but they’re competing against other people in the NFL.''
To translate, as the other 31 NFL teams continue to make their cuts the next several days, the Cowboys will be watching the waiver wire closely for veteran backup quarterbacks. From my perspective, this isn’t an optional expense for this team. It’s necessary. Let’s use last year as an example.
When Will Dak Return to Cowboys Practice?
Prescott is not expected to participate in Monday's light practice as the team convenes, with his first workout likely scheduled for Wednesday.
How Much is Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb Fined Goodbye Wave at Patriots?
Updated by the minute, our Dallas Cowboys 2021 NFL Free Agency and Trade Tracker: News and views on the roster-building effort
Dallas Cowboys vs. Eagles 'Beef' Over NBA's Ben Simmons?
"All these Philly athletes tryna s--t on (Ben) Simmons for extra pat on the back from Philly fans. Cornball activity," Cowboys WR Noah Brown says.
Remember the comfort you felt with Dalton as Prescott’s immediate backup? Now, sure, it didn’t work out the way the Cowboys or Dalton would have hoped. There are no guarantees, of course. No one expected Dalton to get COVID-19 for a few weeks after Prescott was hurt. But, he ended the season with a 4-5 record. More important to this conversation, he has a completion percentage a full 10 percent better than either Gilbert or DiNucci, both of which started a game.
I’ve seen nothing in the improvement of Gilbert, Rush or DiNucci to suggest they can approach a 60 percent completion rate as a starter in September … or October … or anytime this calendar year. That’s the BASELINE necessary to be a competent quarterback in this league (and Dalton threw for 65 percent last year, if you’re wondering). This trio is doing what it’s doing in the preseason with second- and third-string guys against vanilla defenses populated by second- and third-string guys. That won’t translate to the regular season. There is nothing special about the way any of them play.
Pop one or two of them on the practice squad? Sure. But put one of them one heartbeat from the starting job? Nope. No thank you.
Now comes the hard part. The waiting. The Cowboys have to wait to see if an NFL team does them a solid and drops a competent veteran. The Cowboys have to consider working the phones this week to see if they can facilitate a trade for a veteran quarterback, if they covet one they’re concerned won’t hit the waiver wire. Chicago’s Nick Foles is a likely target of a trade like this, for somebody. Blake Bortles, and I can’t even believe I’m writing this, is a free agent. He led the Jaguars to an AFC title game appearance and threw for 60 percent in each of his last two full seasons.
The hope is that Prescott plays all 17 games without fail and the Cowboys are better for it. But he’s an injury risk now. And when you have risk, you have to mitigate it.
What the Cowboys have behind Prescott at the moment won’t mitigate a thing, and the time is coming for the Cowboys to do something about it.