Over the past few weeks, the rest of the world has caught up with the possibility Dallas might be highly interested in using the fourth pick in the NFL Draft to secure an heir apparent at the quarterback position. Tony Romo won't play forever, and his injury history brings a concrete concern about whether it's an intelligent strategy to continue trying to find success with retreads and undrafted free agents behind him on the depth chart.
One of the biggest contentions to drafting a quarterback at four is that player cannot make an immediate impact on the franchise, and that the Cowboys front office is assuredly in win-now mode. Because a backup quarterback will hopefully sit on the bench all year, it would be a waste of a pick based on this opinion. The issues with this line of thinking are multiple. For one, the 2015 season going down the drain are examples 1-12 of how important backup quarterback play is for these Dallas Cowboys. At 36, off of two back surgeries, a separate back break and then his second and third collarbone breaks in the same season, Romo's toughness and fragility are apparent. In addition, the players many are saying the team should draft instead of a QB, are at positions that generally have large learning curves as well, just not as drastic as quarterback.
Jalen Ramsey? Noah Spence? LaQuan Treadwell? Since when do defensive backs, defensive ends and wide receivers have track records of early returns? Throw out 2014's class of wideouts, that's the sort of aberration which will be talked about for decades. Normally, receivers have tough learning curves too, including rookie walls and the sort.
In addition to that, the Cowboys like every other team, have multiple draft picks. It's not first round and over. There is plenty of talent to grab at the other positions that can still contribute to the team in much the same way a first rounder at the position could. That's not normally the case with quarterbacks, where it's very rare for a non-first rounder to become a franchise guy. Teams overdraft quarterbacks because of how important it is to long-term team success.
However, the detractors are right. Initially, a rookie quarterback probably wouldn't fare any better than the performances of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore. However, here we'll lay out a few key points that support the idea that drafting a quarterback at four is still a great strategy if Dallas identifies either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz as a future franchise quarterback.
How To Integrate a Rookie QB with 4th Pick
This might seem counterproductive, but Dallas will need to prepare for a rookie quarterback draft pick by signing a veteran free agent quarterback to be the primary backup. At least, for the first part of the season. Nothing will prepare the youngster like game experience, but there is plenty to be said for the work during the week. Plenty of teams have backup quarterbacks that get very few snaps in practice. Be one of those teams, Dallas. Sign a backup that will not require plenty of practice reps. Due to Romo's injuries, the Cowboys have given him a day off of the practice series that has been dubbed Romo Wednesdays.
Give Romo Wednesdays to the rookie. On the other days of practice, the rookie should get as much snaps as possible facing the best defense possible, give him as many snaps in as many circumstances as possible. Scout team, third team, whatever he can get his hands on. Then on game days, keep the rookie quarterback active for the occasional mop up duty. Whether blowing a team out or being blown out, get the youngster in for that action, and commit to it.
How To Deal With Romo-Friendly Offense
One thing that emerged from the disappointing 2015 campaign was that Dallas' offense wasn't able to be even a shadow of itself without Romo at the helm. However, the idea the offense is only going to work with Romo is short-sighted. Yes, the backups have failed since things were trademarked Romo Friendly... but the backups sucked. They are backups because they do not possess the skillset to do what Romo does, and initially the rookie won't either. What he will have is the raw talent to take advantage of a plus offensive arsenal and outperform Weeden/Cassel/Moore in the "managed" version of the offense.
This might not emerge right away, which is why you signed a backup to come in over the first half of the season, but down the stretch of the second half, the rookie should be able to perform in much the same manner as the veteran backup, because if you have to turn to a veteran backup for any extended period of time in the NFL, you're screwed anyway. The only viable backup plan is a quarterback that has a ceiling yet to be reached. Retreads who couldn't hold down a starting job is not going to be good enough for your team as a starter? Where's the logic in that? Those plays might as well be going to getting experience for your future franchise guy while holding out hope that his superior talent base will be more valuable than the experience of the vet with limited talent.
Secure The Future vs All-In For Win-Now
We'll see what Dallas' mentality is here based on how they operate through the start of free agency. If the Cowboys go out and buy a big name free agent or two, which they rarely do nowadays, it will be an indication of a win now, at all costs philosophy. However, if they remain prudent in FA, signing mid level guys and smart low-cost plugs and banking on a other haul of compensatory picks, then we know the long term is the primary focus of the acquisitions department and that the future franchise QB is definitely a possibility. Their reaction to free agency might then in turn indicate their willingness to use the fourth pick on a player that is more long-term than right-now. After all, if the team isn't inclined to mortgage the financial future of the club taking a risk on a high-priced free agent working out, why would they forego a future franchise quarterback just for a player who could help more for one season?
There's no secret a quarterback is much more importantto the long-term success of a franchise, so free agency will give a nice indication of where Dallas sits on the conversation. The funny thing is, if the Cowboys front office thinks Romo's injury situation isn't something worth planning around, this organization might not be in as great shape as so many assume.