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Spagnola: Romo Beats 2003 Quarterback Draft Odds

Posted Apr 11, 2014


IRVING, Texas – Back in 2003, when the Cowboys’ quarterbacking situation was nowhere close to being stabilized, Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells, the new guy on the block, acquiesced to the front office wishes heading into the draft.

He did not like the Cowboys’ quarterbacking landscape, and for good reason. Upon the roster he inherited were Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Clint Stoerner. That’s it. Looking back now 11 years later and knowing what we now know, it should make you ill just thinking about that threesome, especially considering the Cowboys were coming off three consecutive 5-11 seasons.

But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wasn’t ready to give up on Carter, having invested a second-round pick and, maybe more importantly, two years of grooming the former Georgia quarterback in the grandest of quarterback remakes. He wanted to see this through, despite Parcells’ skepticism.

So Parcells, trying to make his new working relationship harmonious, didn’t push the subject. He said, fine, let’s go with Carter. Had he stubbornly insisted the Cowboys invest in a quarterback the results might have been shockingly disastrous.

That is, unless the Cowboys had somehow traded up four spots for the very first pick in the draft that year, Cincinnati having selected Carson Palmer No. 1. What followed in that draft will now cause you to cringe.

As we know, the Cowboys remained at the No. 5 spot to select cornerback Terence Newman. The next quarterback selected was Byron Leftwich, two picks later by Jacksonville. The next was Kyle Boller, at No. 19 by Baltimore. After that, Rex Grossman at No. 22 by Chicago.

Any of those three guys considered the franchise quarterback they should have been when selected with a first round pick? I don’t think so, Grossman the closest, since he took the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl during the 2006 season, although the only season he has ever started all 16 regular-season games during his 11-year career. Grossman was the only one of the three following Palmer at least still on a roster this past season.

Well, after that, the other quarterbacks drafted in 2003 the Cowboys decided to snub ended up being a real mixed bag, enough to make you cover your eyes, and maybe Bill’s, too. The next two selected went in the third round: Dave Ragone and Chris Simms. After that? Yuk: Seneca Wallace, Brian St. Pierre, uh, Drew Henson, Brooks Bollinger, Gibran Hamdan and Ken Dorsey.

And the Cowboys, who would eventually cut Stoerner, well they ended up simply signing some kid out of Eastern Illinois who was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine as only the designated thrower for the wide receiver workouts. His name? Tony Romo, the team using like $12,000 to sign the rookie free agent, mostly thanks to Sean Payton’s Eastern Illinois ties.

Looking back now 12 years later, comparable to steeling the crown jewels.

Of all those QBs drafted in 2003, only Palmer, Grossman and Wallace still were on rosters in 2013, with Grossman and Wallace currently free agents. The rest, total busts, and the Cowboys dearly wanted Henson to succeed after trading for him in 2004.

Romo, after sitting three and a half seasons, has become the Cowboys’ second all-time leading passer to Aikman (29,565 yards), the only Cowboys quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season (four times) and the all-time leader in touchdown passes (208).

That brings us to this current discussion heading into this year’s NFL draft, now just 27 days away, concerning the Cowboys quarterback position, one now stocked with three guys: Romo, veteran backup Kyle Orton and the recently signed third-year guy Brandon Weeden. There is this notion out there that the Cowboys just have to draft a quarterback, at least as high as the third round, to start planning for the future with Romo turning 34 in 10 days.

Just keep hearing, hey, the Seahawks found themselves Super Bowl-winning QB Russell Wilson in the 2012 third round, and within two seasons he has led the club to the top of the NFL mountain, certainly though with that Seattle defense doing the heavy lifting. And as I keep saying, fine, Seattle did, but for every Russell Wilson or Nick Foles and Mike Glennon found in the third round – the jury is still out on the latter two – there are 20 third-round picks who didn’t bleed a drop in the NFL. The percentages just aren’t with you finding a franchise quarterback in the third round or lower.

So I did this, made a list of all the quarterbacks selected in the third round from 2000 through 2011, meaning before Wilson, Foles and Glennon were drafted. Going back from 2011 year by year tell me what you think:

2011: Ryan Mallett.

2010: Colt McCoy.

2009: None (Stephen McGee was next, first pick in fourth round).

2008: Kevin O’Connell.

2007: Trent Edwards.

2006: Charlie Whitehurst, Brodie Coyle.

2005: Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter, David Greene.

2004: Matt Schaub.

2003: Ragone, Simms.

2002: Josh McCown.

2001: None (Chris Weinke, Sage Rosenfels, Jesse Palmer, all in the fourth).

2000: Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman.

Seriously?

That’s 19 guys, and none would be considered a franchise quarterback. And really with Schaub, who has had a modicum of success but not with Atlanta (with Houston), his value to the Falcons came in the trade, cashing in on two seconds and swapping first-round picks with the Texans. But, uh, Houston has given up on Schaub, having recently traded him to Oakland.

So you starting to catch my drift?

The percentages simply aren’t with you turning one of these third-round groomers into a franchise quarterback. Seems to me if you’re not getting your quarterback in the first round then you are wasting your time, your cap money and your pick.

Again illustrating just how fortunate the Cowboys are to have found Romo in rookie free agency. That just rarely, if ever, happens.

And don’t give me this Roger Staubach and Danny White bull. Staubach, the Heisman Trophy winner, went in the 10th round because he had to serve his five-year Navy commitment. White went in the third round because he had already signed with Memphis to play in the World Football League. Otherwise, both were likely first-round picks.

In fact, after that, I decided to see how far back I had to go to find a legitimate franchise quarterback selected in the third round, so we’re talking pre-2000. Well, I did stumble across Chris Chandler, a 1988 third-rounder to Indianapolis. Chandler did manage to play 17 years for eight different teams, earning two Pro Bowl selections in 1997-98 while leading the Atlanta Falcons, his sixth team, to the 1998 Super Bowl, losing to Denver. No one would compare Chandler to Troy Aikman, though.

Then there was Jay Schroeder, the 1984 third-round pick of the Washington Redskins. After Joe Theismann broke his leg during the 1985 season, Schroeder inherited the Redskins starting job, and in 1986 led them to a 12-4 record, losing in the NFC title game to the Giants. He also got the 1990 Raiders to the AFC title game, losing to Buffalo, yet ended up playing for four teams during his 11-year career. The Hall of Fame will not be calling.

Oh, I guess we should include Neil O’Donnell in the discussion, the 1990 third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He did earn one Pro Bowl and led the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX in his fifth year, losing as you well remember to the Cowboys – his last loss with Pittsburgh, though. O’Donnell ended up playing for three more teams during his 13-year career, starting just eight games his final five seasons.

Same with Jeff Hostetler, a New York Giants third-round pick in 1984. After a rookie year on injured reserve, he was Phil Simms’ backup for six seasons, taking over the club for the final two games of the 1990 season when Simms broke his ankle. Behind a stingy Giants defense Hostetler led the club to a Super Bowl victory over Buffalo. He would win the starting job the following season, but lose it back to Simms the next year. Hostetler totaled 15 years in the league, the last five with the Raiders (4) and Redskins (1).

Franchise quarterbacks? Not really.

That means I had to go all the way back to 1979 to find a legitimate franchise quarterback drafted in the third round, one Joe Montana out of Notre Dame by the San Francisco 49ers. I mean, 1979, having to sift through such names as Brock Huard, Jonathan Quinn, Jeff Lewis, Stoney Case, Peter Tom Willis and Robbie Bosco, just to name a few, from 1980-1999, a span of 20 drafts, proving Montana was the third-round exception not the rule.

Oh, you might find a guy during that time who became a starter, a guy who might have gotten his team into the playoffs, but really none who became the fulltime starter with the team drafting him for the remainder of a lengthy career.

Heck, just think about the years, the number of games, the number of quarterbacks between Joe Montana and Russell Wilson, third-round quarterbacks who went on to win Super Bowls as the starter. Man we’re talking from 1979 to 2012, 33 years between quarterbacks drafted in the third round who eventually won a Super Bowl, putting an asterisk next to Hostetler. We’re also talking 44 quarterbacks selected in the third round of drafts between Montana and Wilson, the far majority just flaming out.

Risky business, wouldn’t you say, betting on these quite apparent long odds for a third-round QB to succeed?

Probably about as long as a rookie free-agent quarterback coming out of nowhere now preparing for his 12th NFL season, eight and a half of those as the starter.

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