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'Backup' QB Might Be Most Important Signing

IRVING, Texas --In 2010, Tony Romo missed the final 10 games with a fractured collarbone.

In 2011, he played six weeks with a broken rib. He also played the season finale with a bruised throwing hand that clearly affected him -- and may have in the playoffs, too, if the Cowboys had clinched a Wild Card spot.

We can even trace back to that 44-6 disaster in 2008, when Romo suffered rib cartilage damage against Philadelphia and could barely stand for his infamous postgame press conference ("If this is the worst thing . . ."). If the Cowboys had shown up for that game and clinched a playoff berth, doubtful he starts the next week.

Whether he grit his teeth through it or not, Tony Romo has sustained what the average person would call a serious injury in each of the last two seasons. He turns 32 next month, and even though he's still in his prime coming off a career year, injuries occur more frequently with age. We can all attest to that. It's why, with my fragile feet, I don't go near a basketball court anymore.

Kyle Orton could be the only non-starter among the seven players the Cowboys have signed in free agency so far. But "backup" quarterback was a very high priority for the front office, and (cross your fingers) it might wind up being their most important signing.

This is the most important position on the roster. With the exception of two terrible second halves against the Jets and Lions, Romo carried this team last season. Without him, they don't win eight games. They probably don't get to their 2010 total of six.

Adding Orton isn't about pushing Romo, who just played the best football of his career. If your quarterback needs competition to stay motivated, he and the rest of the team are in big trouble.

It's about getting a 29-year-old insurance policy who's still in *his *prime, who probably could have gone somewhere else and started, even as a stopgap for a high draft pick.

It's a tough situation for Stephen McGee, who enters the final year of his rookie contract as the apparent No. 3 guy again. He has improved, and I wouldn't count him out based on his tools and his work ethic.

But the Cowboys again wanted a veteran with significant starting experience. Orton happens to be much younger than previous backups Brad Johnson and Jon Kitna.

And as much as Romo meant to the team's success last year, they felt they had to protect themselves against another injury.

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