In an era when there aren’t even enough talented starting quarterbacks for all 32 NFL teams (just as the Houston Texans), it seems unfair to criticize the Dallas Cowboys for stumbling since losing Pro Bowl signal caller Tony Romo to a fractured clavicle in September.
More appropriate? Wondering if the team did enough to provide an insurance policy for their oft-injured star. Short answer? No.
The Cowboys lost their fifth straight game on Sunday, this time by a score of 13-12 to the visiting Seattle Seahawks. The starter for Dallas, Matt Cassel, threw for 97 yards on 13-of-25 passing – an average of 3.9 yards per attempt, lower than Romo has posted in any of his career starts – and was 0-for-3 with a sack on a tragicomic final drive. Despite that, Dallas still had a chance to win this game (a common theme this season), and would be better than their 2-5 mark if they had put a little more effort into building depth behind Romo.
Instead, they had Brandon Weeden.
When Romo missed 10 games in 2010, the Cowboys went 4-5 with 38-year-old backup Jon Kitna, who posted a career-high passer rating of 88.9. (Stephen McGee led the ‘Boys to a Week 17 win against the Eagles). Kitna and McGee remained the backups in 2011, before the team turned to Kyle Orton in 2012.
Dallas waived Orton before the 2014 season and replaced him with Weeden, the 31-year-old who was so bad that the Cleveland Browns let him go two years after drafting him in the first round. Weeden, a total system QB during his time at Oklahoma State, posted a passer rating of 71.8 with the Browns.
Still, the Cowboys opted to keep Weeden this year, with his only competition for the job being undrafted free agents Jameill Showers and Dustin Vaughan. What else could they have done? Well, among the options available this year were Brian Hoyer and Tyrod Taylor (not to mention a few other familiar names), all of whom appeared to be more interesting options than Weeden. There’s also the fact that the Cowboys haven’t drafted a quarterback since McGee in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft.
Think about this: They took Demarcus Lawrence two picks ahead of Derek Carr last year. Carr has thrown for more than 600 yards and 7 touchdowns in his last two starts. Sure, you could argue that taking a QB in the second round of the draft doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering Dallas already has Romo, but remember the rumors that owner Jerry Jones was obsessing over Johnny Manziel? It’s possible that the Cowboys were looking for an insurance policy but decided against it. Also, teams like the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots regularly draft quarterbacks – sometimes even in the second round – despite currently having two of the greatest in history.
It’s a strategy that has paid off countless times, yet McGee is the only true quarterback that Dallas has drafted since Quincy Carter in 2001. That’s a long time to be ignoring the most important position in the sport; Since winning the Super Bowl with Tom Brady in 2001, the Patriots have drafted seven quarterbacks…including Cassel.
When Romo went down in Week 2, the team turned to the only person they could at that point: Weeden. Knowing that they could not actually rely on him with great certainty, they also traded for Cassel two days after the injury. Unsurprisingly, Weeden lost his first three starts, and so the job was given to Cassel, a quarterback with the fourth lowest QBR since 2012 among players with at least 500 plays. The lowest? Weeden himself.
So, of course the Cowboys have lost five in a row. What’s surprising is how close they’ve been to snapping that skid. They held a 28-14 lead over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3 before losing 39-28. They pushed the New Orleans Saints to overtime in Week 4, but lost 26-20. In Week 7, they tied the New York Giants in the fourth quarter, only to give up the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. And on Sunday against the Seahawks, Dallas actually had a fourth quarter lead with its defense frustrating Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch for much of the afternoon.
Ultimately, Seattle was able to win because their quarterback could do things that Cassel never could: Wilson led the Seahawks on a 17-play, 79-yard drive to give Steven Hauschka the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal. And despite their best efforts, the Cowboys are stuck at 2-5, forced to play with the hand they’ve been dealt. There’s nothing they can do about it, either, not until Romo is eligible to return in Week 11. Because you can’t solve the problem of who your backup is when you actually need one.
That’s something you have to plan for well in advance.