The 2020 NFL season simply has not been good for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they slip to 2-5 and lose first place in the NFC East on Sunday, but they also lost their second quarterback in a three-week span.
Dallas fell to the Washington Football Team 25-3 in a game that was disastrous in multiple ways. The most obvious is that the Cowboys fell behind the 2-4-1 Philadelphia Eagles, who picked up their second win of the year Thursday.
However, a few issues are far more alarming than just the poor record. The Dallas defense looked atrocious for the seventh week in a row, while the Andy Dalton-led offense was lethargic for the second time in as many outings.
To make matters worse, Dalton was forced out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter—roughly two weeks after starter Dak Prescott was lost for the year to a broken ankle. Any head injury is cause for concern, and the nasty hit Dalton took could end up keeping him out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
With two more games before Dallas' bye and no margin for error, the Cowboys need to turn their season around immediately.
"We need to be much better, and we're running out of time," head coach Mike McCarthy said, per ESPN's Todd Archer.
If Dalton is going to miss extended time, this could require some serious juggling at the quarterback position. The goods news is that the division is still very much up for grabs, and the trade deadline isn't until Nov. 3. Therefore, some shuffling and a turnaround are not out of the realm of possibility.
Keep in mind, though, that Dallas could still re-sign or franchise-tag (again) Prescott in the offseason, so outlandish trades and long-term commitments are likely off the table. In other words, don't expect Dallas to swing a deal for Deshaun Watson.
So, what are the Cowboys' quarterback options heading into Week 8? Let's take a look.
Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert
The least exciting entry you'll find here includes two quarterbacks already on the Cowboys' depth chart.
Rookie Ben DiNucci came in to replace Dalton on Sunday and went 2-of-3 for 39 yards in limited action. The seventh-round pick out of James Madison began his collegiate career at Pittsburgh, where he passed for 1,091 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. In two years at James Madison, he passed for 5,716 yards, 45 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
While there is obviously little tape on DiNucci as a pro, he at least has some experience in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's system. The same cannot be said for third-stringer Garrett Gilbert, who was claimed off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad following Prescott's injury.
Gilbert cannot be discounted, however. While he hasn't spent much of the season in Dallas, he has been working as a pro since 2014.
Originally drafted in the sixth round by the St. Louis Rams, Gilbert also spent time with the New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Orlando Apollos (of the AAF) before joining Cleveland.
Gilbert was leading the AAF in passing with 2,152 yards when the startup league suspended operations.
While the duo of DiNucci and Gilbert might not excite Cowboys fans, that could be the route Dallas goes if it is willing to risk falling out of contention early.
If the Cowboys are intent on trying to save their season and making a run at the division crown, then they're likely to make a move for an experienced veteran. Hopefully, Dalton will be healthy enough to return soon, but that shouldn't preclude Dallas from making such a play.
Dalton, after all, wasn't exactly lighting it up before the injury. He passed for 266 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions last week. He had just 75 yards with a pick and a fumble before leaving Sunday.
If the Cowboys consider trades, Indianapolis Colts backup Jacoby Brissett could be a prime option. He's firmly entrenched as the backup to Philip Rivers, but he also has 33 career starts under his belt. He threw for 2,942 yards with 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year while helping lead the Colts to a 7-9 record.
No, these numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but there are two things to consider here.
For one, Brissett is careful with the football, and turnovers have been a big issue for the Cowboys this season. They came into Week 7 with the worst turnover differential in the league:
The other thing to consider is that a 7-9 record could very well be enough to win the NFC East in 2020. Theoretically, Brissett could be a short-term option, help spark a playoff run and then be off the books in 2021.
With Brissett carrying a cap hit of $21.4 million this season, the Colts might be willing to dump his salary for a fair price. Dallas has nearly $24 million in cap space remaining, so salary wouldn't necessarily be a factor here.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor and Mitchell Trubisky
Fitzpatrick would be the most enticing option as he was starting and playing well just last week. He delivered back-to-back wins for the Dolphins in Weeks 5 and 6, throwing for 541 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in that span.
The Dolphins, though, announced that rookie Tua Tagovailoa would start following this week's bye. With Fitzpatrick in the final year of his contract, Miami might consider him expendable. The problem is that with Tagovailoa set to have just one career start before the trade deadline, dealing for the Bearded Bomber could be pricey.
Fitzpatrick has been a mentor to Tagovailoa, and the two have a relationship that should benefit the rookie as he adjusts to the starter's life.
"I think with having someone like Fitz, you just don't think within what you know," Tagovailoa explained to reporters. "You start thinking of what other people are doing, the defense, how they align to stack formations, how fronts can dictate coverages. Just things that I didn't really need to worry about in college, that I think of now."
It's hard to imagine Miami breaking up such a beneficial relationship even after turning the page to the rookie on the field.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, turned the page to rookie Justin Herbert several weeks ago, which could make Taylor expendable. The Virginia Tech product has 47 starts on his resume and has been a Pro Bowler in the past.
However, the Chargers could be interested in keeping Taylor around as a mentor to Herbert—an issue the Colts don't have with Brissett and Rivers. With a cap hit of just $7.5 million, dumping his salary probably isn't a huge concern, either.
Chicago, meanwhile, benched Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles less than three weeks into the season. He's in the final year of his rookie contract and likely won't be back in 2021, which could lead the Bears to get what they can for him before the trade deadline.
However, the Bears are locked in a playoff pursuit of their own and may want to keep Trubisky around for insurance purposes.
While there has been some trade buzz surrounding Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., there are several reasons he isn't a realistic option. For one, Washington isn't likely to help Dallas in any way. Secondly, he has shown very little to suggest he could help reverse Dallas' fortunes.
"He's worth more to Washington right now than he is to almost anybody else," NBC Sports' Peter King said, per James Scibilia of NBC Sports Washington.
With two years left on Haskins' rookie deal, he'd only be an option if Dallas was intent on moving on from Prescott in the offseason.
Drew Stanton, Blake Bortles, Trevor Siemian and Colin Kaepernick
If the Cowboys aren't willing to work a trade, their options are somewhat limited. However, a few experienced veterans are available either on the free-agent market or on other teams' practice squads.
Drew Stanton is a longtime backup who hasn't started a game since 2016. However, he does have 17 career starts under his belt and has helped mentor young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Baker Mayfield. He could be an ideal target to fill out the depth chart if the plan is to roll with DiNucci and Gilbert.
Colin Kaepernick would be more of a start-soon and win-now addition as he has 58 regular-season starts, six playoff starts and a Super Bowl appearance on his resume. At 32, he could be a viable starting option, though he hasn't played since 2016, and getting back up to speed could be an issue.
Given Dallas' need to win now, Kaepernick is probably a long shot, but it's worth noting that owner Jerry Jones considered sending personnel to the private workout scheduled for the veteran last season before he ultimately opted against it.
Trevor Siemian and Blake Bortles are two options if Dallas wants to make another practice-squad signing like the one it made with Gilbert.
Siemian has 25 career starts under his belt and currently resides on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad. Bortles has made 76 career starts, including three in the postseason. He's on the Denver Broncos' practice squad.
While there might not be a better starting option than Dalton available to sign right now, the reality is that right now, Dalton isn't an option.
*Contract and cap information via Spotrac.