Who Can the Dallas Cowboys Bring in to Back Up Kyle Orton?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 24, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 24:  Kyle Orton #18 of the Dallas Cowboys during a preseason game at AT&T Stadium on August 24, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Even when the Dallas Cowboys manage to win in December, they lose.

As the Cowboys prepare for their third Week 17 must-win game in as many years, the team has been rocked by news that they will face the Philadelphia Eagles without quarterback Tony Romo, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Not only does that bombshell thrust Kyle Orton into the spotlight heading into the Cowboys' biggest game of the year, but it raises another question:

Who will back up Orton?

The Cowboys, you see, don't have another quarterback on the roster. Or the practice squad.

Schefter was among the first to break the news Romo would miss the rest of the season after aggravating his injured back in last week's win over the Washington Redskins.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen later expounded upon Schefter's report. 

The Cowboys have disputed that Romo will definitively be out for Week 17, but as Bleacher Report's own Michael Schottey pointed out, that's likely equal parts gamesmanship and optimism.

Granted, this is a devastating injury. Say what you will about Romo, who has just as many detractors as supporters, but it's hard to argue that's he's not at least a top-10 NFL quarterback.

Losing one of those just before a huge game stings...a lot.

However, head coach Jason Garrett expressed confidence in Orton on Monday, according to ESPN:

On some level, the Cowboys should consider themselves lucky to have Orton around. Yes, the 31-year-old has only attempted 15 passes in two seasons in Dallas. However, Orton is also a nine-year veteran with nearly 70 career starts for the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.

Kyle Orton Career
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Pro Football Reference

Orton may not be Romo, but he's a veteran passer who knows the offense. As backups go, Dallas could be in far worse shape.

The real problem lies behind Orton, in that there isn't anything behind Orton.

The Cowboys rolled the dice by only carrying two quarterbacks this year, and those dice have come up snake-eyes.

The issue is only exacerbated by the fact that most of the quarterbacks who Dallas had on the roster during training camp have already found work elsewhere.

Trick-shot rookie Alex Tanney signed with the Cleveland Browns last month. Same for Nick Stephens with the Baltimore Ravens.

So, what's left?

Frankly, not a whole lot.

Rudy Carpenter

If the Cowboys want to sign a player with whom they have some familiarity, their best bet is likely Rudy Carpenter, who the Cowboys signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009.

The former Arizona State signal-caller didn't stick with the team then or on his second try in 2012, but Carpenter at least has some familiarity with the players and the playbook in Big D.

Of course, there's the minor detail that Carpenter hasn't ever thrown a pass in an NFL game, but when digging through the scratch-and-dent bin, one does not have the luxury of being picky.

David Carr

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Cowboys are bringing in a handful of potential backups for Orton in for workouts, including a former No. 1 overall pick.

That former first overall pick is David Carr, who spent the last two seasons backing up Eli Manning with the New York Giants before being waived back in August.

David Carr Career
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Pro Football Reference

Of all the players on this list (even Orton), Carr has the most starting experience, having spent five seasons as the starter in Houston.

Granted, that tenure with the Texans was mostly a train wreck. Carr's record as a starter (23-56) is terrible and the 34-year-old hasn't started a game since 2007.

Other than that, though, he's great.

Tyler Thigpen

Tyler Thigpen, another member of the carousel of cast-offs, will also be visiting Texas for a workout this week, per The Dallas Morning News

Tyler Thigpen
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Pro Football Reference

Like most of the players on this list, Thigpen does offer the Cowboys some experience as a starter in the NFL. The 29-year-old made 11 starts for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, although he has only started one game since.

With that said, the fact that Thigpen won only one of those starts in 2008 does not exactly fill one with confidence.

John Skelton

If you want to know just how slim the pickings are for the Cowboys, consider this: John Skelton may well be their best option.

The 25-year-old, who has been with the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans this year, was released by the Titans last week.

John Skelton Career
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Pro Football Reference

The upside with Skelton is his experience, as the former Fordham standout made 17 starts for the Arizona Cardinals between 2010-2012.

The downside, of course, is that Skelton would immediately be thrown into the deep end of an offense with which he's not familiar.

Well, that and the fact Skelton was hide-your-eyes awful in 2012, tossing only two touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

Matt Leinart

While the Cowboys are sorting through cast-off Arizona quarterbacks, Jerry Jones might want to take a look at one of the Cardinals' worst draft picks of the past decade.

Yes, Matt Leinart was either a terrible pick, a complete bust or both. The 30-year-old hasn't started an NFL game since 2011, and Leinart has been out of the NFL altogether since a cup of coffee with the Buffalo Bills back in August. 

Matt Leinart Career
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Pro Football Reference

However, Leinart is a former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick who actually won his last start two years ago for the Houston Texans.

In fact, Leinart's record as an NFL starter is 8-10. Granted, that's nothing to pound one's chest about, but it's a similar winning percentage to both Skelton and Orton.

Other Options

Of course, other backup QB options remain available for Dallas. Vince Young's name will all but certainly come up, as will a certain former starter in Denver.

Fans may clamor for Tim Tebow, but the smart money here says Skelton is the play for one simple reason.

He's at least been on an NFL roster for most of the season, working out and going to meetings. Cold as he may be, at least he isn't frozen solid like most of the other QBs on the market.

The Cowboys appear to agree, at least to an extent:

At the end of the day, whoever the Cowboys tap as backup QB may not matter. The Eagles' offense carved the Bears to pieces Sunday night, and as bad as Chicago's defense is, the Dallas D is even worse.

That puts a titanic amount of pressure on Orton and the Cowboys offense, and sets the stage for a third consecutive holiday meltdown in Dallas.

That sad Christmas tale may be an old story, but there's a new twist this year.

For once, fans won't be able to blame Tony Romo.

Then again...


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