Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 28, 2016

Cowboys Are Eager To Solve Another Team’s Quarterback Problem

For football fans everywhere, and for the players and coaches of two teams, the focus for the next ten days will be on Super Bowl 50. The first edition of the Big Game may have been played before lots of empty seats at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum half a century ago, but then again it wasn’t even called the Super Bowl back then. Now tickets on StubHub start at just under $3,500 and quickly climb to six times that amount.

Eventually the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will get around to actually playing the final game of the 2015-16 NFL season, a contest that may not be all that entertaining if the early betting action is accurate. Carolina opened as a 4½ point favorite, but with money pouring in on the Panthers at those odds the line has already increased to 6 points. So much for the romance of Peyton Manning’s last rodeo.

But for those associated with the thirty teams that aren’t going to be taking field a week from Sunday thoughts have already turned to next season. Plans are being made for the personnel changes that, various coaches and general managers hope, will help their team be one of the last two standing come this time next year. Already six teams that finished with losing records have hired new head coaches. Five of the six new hires are moving into the top spot after serving as offensive coordinators. The focus on offense is understandable in the pass-happy NFL, even if it ignores the fact that Super Bowl 50 will pit the AFC’s top defensive squad against the NFC’s number three team in total defense. That same focus is the reason why any discussion about a team’s prospects for success begins with its quarterback.

Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboys, a team that some pundits back during training camp actually thought might be participating in Super Bowl 50. Instead the Cowboys finished dead last in the anemic NFC East with a 4-12 record while scoring just 275 points, the second lowest total in the league. The main reason fans and team officials cite for that gaping gap between preseason expectations and regular season performance is quarterback Tony Romo breaking his collarbone twice and thus missing all but four contests. With Romo out a trio of backups, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore produced just a single victory.

Romo will soon undergo surgery and is expected to be fully recovered by the time training camp opens next summer. But for all the team records that he holds, Romo’s reputation has always been greater than his performance. The Cowboys, who are now two decades removed from their last appearance in the Super Bowl, have made the playoffs just four times in Romo’s ten seasons; and before he takes another snap he will turn 36. In addition to his recent injury issues Romo underwent two back surgeries in 2013. All of that means that much of the recent conversation around the league about the quarterback position has focused on Dallas, a team that clearly needs a capable backup based on this season’s results; and one that should want that backup to be someone who could be groomed for the starting role given Romo’s age and health.

About the only benefit of going 4-12 is that a team gets to draft early. The Cowboys will pick fourth when the 2016 Draft begins in late April, and of the three teams ahead of them only the Cleveland Browns have a similarly great need for a signal-caller. So it’s no surprise that Dallas owner Jerry Jones was in Mobile, Alabama this week, site of the Senior Bowl. There he made a point of speaking with North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, widely regarded as one of the top college quarterbacks available in this year’s draft.

Jones also told the press in Mobile that his team might look to shore up the quarterback position through free agency, and that is where most of the speculation about the Cowboys’ plans has focused. Pundits appear evenly divided between those who see Washington’s Robert Griffin III wearing a Cowboys uniform next season and those who think Jones’s well-known fondness for Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel will trump any advice from his team’s front office.

That both Griffin and Manziel will be available should Jones want them seems certain. With Kirk Cousins firmly established as Washington’s starter, it would be fiscal madness for Dan Snyder’s team not to cut RG3 loose before a $16 million contract for next season vests in early March. And in Cleveland Manziel’s off-field antics, which have ranged from boorish to self-destructive, have turned the one-time savior of that downtrodden franchise into a pariah in just two short seasons. Both of the young quarterbacks grew up in Texas, and both were college stars in the state; Griffin at Baylor and Manziel at Texas A&M.

The local connections are obvious, and given the season Dallas just went through it’s easy to assume that either of the two couldn’t be any worse than the backup trio the Cowboys just deployed. But the question Jones and the Cowboys ought to be asking is whether either Griffin or Manziel is a genuine prospect to take over the starting role.

The most likely answer to that question makes one think that those cheering loudest for Dallas to sign either of the two are all associated with opposing teams. Whatever greatness may once have been in RG3’s future came undone late in his rookie season, when he first injured and then reinjured his right knee. Griffin was going to be one of the new generation of NFL quarterbacks, a dual threat who could run as well as he could throw. But since offseason surgery following that first campaign, and with subsequent injuries hobbling him further, that dream has gone glimmering. Efforts to convert Griffin to a pocket passer failed miserably. Aside from his physical woes, RG3 quickly lost his locker room by taking credit for Washington’s success but pointing fingers at teammates whenever the franchise struggled.

As for Manziel, the slight 23-year old was always questionable as a professional quarterback, a fact on rude display when he slipped to the 22nd choice in the 2014 NFL Draft. But his mediocre play on the field has been overshadowed by his immature and often drunken displays off it. He ended this season and probably his time in Cleveland by skipping out on mandatory concussion medical checks for party time in Las Vegas during the Browns final regular season weekend.

In a recent interview Troy Aikman, the last quarterback to take a Dallas team to the Super Bowl, said about his former team that “unless practices change…I don’t anticipate anything being different from what we’ve seen in the last twenty years.” With Jerry Jones apparently enamored of two flawed and failing quarterbacks it doesn’t look like anything is about to change in Dallas.

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