As we track the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2013 offseason there has been no shortage of changes made to the coaching staff. Those moves have been well documented and the attention now shifts to the roster as both the NFL Scouting Combine and free-agency approach.
Despite the presence of quarterback Tony Romo, the quarterback position is beginning to draw more attention for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Dallas has one playoff win during Romo´s six-plus seasons lining up under center for the Cowboys. Despite becoming the franchise's leading passer, postseason success is still a question mark.
Second, Romo´s age places Dallas in position to start looking ahead, even though the Cowboys have long since stated their intention to extend the contract of their polarizing signal-caller.
Now, this extension will likely be in the range of three to four seasons and this would seem to represent the time frame that the Cowboys have to find the future of America´s Team.
In order to accomplish this goal, which is far from being as easy as too many people think, owner and general manager Jerry Jones might need to change his philosophy at the backup quarterback position.
Romo´s current understudy, Kyle Orton, just finished his first season holding a clipboard for the Cowboys. After signing a three-year, $10.5 million contract last March, Orton is slated to earn $1.35 million in 2013.
But by 2014, Orton will earn $3.25 million—and this is where things need to stop.
It was one thing when the Cowboys, as defending Super Bowl champions, signed rejected veteran Bernie Kosar for a cool $1 million following his unceremonious release from the Cleveland Browns in 1993. An injury to starting quarterback Troy Aikman necessitated this move as the only other quarterback on the roster was, ironically, current head coach Jason Garrett, who could throw a football about 40 yards in a hurricane.
Kosar was key in the NFC Championship Game that year as Aikman was again injured, suffering a concussion that likely hindered his play a week later in Super Bowl XXVIII. His touchdown pass to Alvin Harper in the fourth quarter would seal a second straight conference championship against San Francisco.
But are today´s Cowboys in a similar position?
In other words, is Dallas a bona fide contender that can justify spending significant dollars for a quarterback that might be needed deep in the playoffs?
I just don´t think so.
It´s always good to have an ace up your sleeve when the stakes are the highest. But that ´93 Dallas team was an Emmitt Smith holdout away from going 14-2 en route to a second straight world championship.
The 2012 Cowboys went 8-8 for the second straight season and missed the playoffs, yet again, under Garrett´s one-dimensional offense.
Given where the Cowboys stand right now with numerous holes to fill, thanks to some really poor decisions made by Jones in recent seasons, does it make sense to tie up so much money in a veteran quarterback who´s usually not good enough to start anymore?
Would it not be a better idea to call upon a young, hungry quarterback that isn´t there to kick back while earning well into the seven figures to simply stand around?
Should the Cowboys go younger in backing up Tony Romo?
I believe the latter makes sense when you are what the Cowboys are right now, a team that is building more than they admit and is also looking at its aging starting quarterback.
Romo could easily have several seasons left in the tank, certainly to the dismay of those who insist upon only focusing on a tiny fraction of the passes he throws.
But one way or another, a future passer needs to be found sooner rather than later.
Orton´s contract is only attractive for as long as 2013, which gives Dallas this offseason and the following to find a possible answer.
This is precisely how San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh managed to get his hands on Colin Kaepernick, a mere second-year quarterback from Nevada that just helped the 49ers reach the ultimate game after surpassing incumbent starter Alex Smith during the season. It should also be mentioned that Harbaugh targeted his future quarterback with just the second pick he ever made as an NFL coach—not too bad. His first selection was pass rusher Aldon Smith just a round earlier in the 2011 NFL Draft—not too bad again!
So, preparing for the future means getting younger, cheaper and better.
Jones tends to get older, pricier and definitely not very good when it comes to bolstering his roster during this time of year.
This trend has to stop.
Orton is here for another year and possibly more, cementing Jones' philosophy following that acquisition of Kosar way back when. But that was the first year of free agency in the NFL and times have definitely changed since then.
To avoid ending up with no quarterback as he did following the 2000 regular season, the end of the Aikman-era, the time to look is right now, even if a selection is not made this offseason.
But we know the future is not Orton—and we also know that aging and expensive quarterbacks backing up starters certainly don´t secure anything but a reduced salary cap, something the Cowboys have right now, to no surprise.