The Dallas Cowboys Backup Quarterback Debacle
Offseason never quite lasts long with the Dallas Cowboys. As the spotlight recedes from a truly impactful offseason episode — Sean Lee’s in-practice, season-ending knee injury — it begins to shift to an insignificant one: Kyle Orton’s holdout from mini-camps and workouts.
This story really doesn’t deserve the hype it’s getting. Why the information is meaningless and being overblown are two very different notions, so let’s focus on the first.
Why should we care about Orton’s holdout? He seems to want to retire. The Cowboys should let him, then go all-in on Brandon Weeden as their backup. After all, Weeden has had some success at the NFL level. The front office really has no choice but to take Tony Romo at his word when he says he’s 100-percent healthy and trust the stalwart offensive line to both protect him and facilitate a stronger running game to ease his load.
Why so dismissive of the backup quarterback’s role and job? Especially when Romo — tough as he is — takes so many hits hanging around the pocket and scrambling? And when he’s coming off multiple back surgeries in six months?
It’s simple. I believe that, play-calling aside, the Cowboys’ offense has the same essential makeup it had last year. And I believe that on the majority of his outings in 2013, Romo ran that offense like a Top 10 NFL quarterback. Because when he protects the ball, that’s what he is. He adds value in his own ways: extending plays with athletic ability, and calling audibles at the line. As he’s aged, his decision-making has gotten better, while his true command of the offense has solidified. You either believe in him or you believe in him to fail when it matters most, and I, for one, am of the former opinion.
Kyle Orton has never had that same kind of competence as an NFL starter, which is probably why he was considered the best backup for his team in 2013. He played very well when it counted — in Week 17 against Philadelphia — despite a season-ending pick on the final drive that was his fault. But he also got a rare, solid performance from the Dallas defense that game, one of about four handed in all season. If Romo had been blessed with just one more of those, at any point along the way, the Cowboys could easily have had the division sealed by Week 17.
Because that’s the thing: The play and status of the backup quarterback should never have become an issue last year. If the Cowboys had won just one more game — just one of the three or four that were insanely close, even by NFL standards — this story wouldn’t be getting the traction it’s getting now, even with Romo going down at the very end. The subject shouldn’t have mattered then, and it doesn’t matter now, unless it’s to report on the positives of Weeden’s progress.
If the ‘Boys have nothing else to show for the last several years, they have their high-flying offensive identity. It starts and ends with No. 9. If he goes down for a lengthy period of time, it’ll take more than stellar play from Orton or Weeden or whoever is under center to save the season.