With training camp right around the corner, DallasCowboys.com is taking a look at the outlook of each position group for the home team in a seven-part series, beginning Monday with the quarterbacks.
*The Cowboys signed Kyle Orton to a three-year contract on March 14.
Big Issue: It's always about Tony Romo, isn't it? Since he took over as the Cowboys' starter in 2006, the general understanding has been that the team will go as far as he can take them.
With each passing season, the pressure on Romo seems to grow. It's not that the club is considering canning him anytime soon – in fact, it's probably more likely that he gets a contract extension in the next year or so – but the organization's higher-ups now acknowledge that there is a limited window to win a Super Bowl under Romo. The quarterback is 32 now, and though he suggested this offseason that he could play into his late '30s, very few signal-callers continue to improve at such and age.
For the first time in his career as a starter, Romo's primary backup is now younger than he is. The Cowboys signed seven-year veteran Kyle Orton in March, securing themselves perhaps the league's best depth at the position.
While Romo and Orton aren't competing for a job, the importance of a solid No. 2 cannot be understated. Romo has missed games in two of the last four seasons, and was forced to play through broken ribs last year.
Scouting Department: It would be really easy for me to write about what I expect from Romo in training camp and for the upcoming season, but I am going to take a different approach. I am going to be very interested to see if Stephen McGee does enough for this front office and coaching staff to make them hold onto him as the third quarterback, or is that roster spot so valuable that an extra wide receiver needs to be carried, or an extra safety or defensive linemen? In my view, McGee is at the point in his career where you admire all the hard work and toughness that he shows, but question if he really that talented.
When the Cowboys signed Orton, that told me a lot about what they thought of McGee, but can he do enough in four preseason games to change their minds about carrying that third guy?
Rookie Watch: Though they could make a move to add numbers to the position at a later date, the Cowboys do not currently have a rookie quarterback on the roster.
Don't Forget About . . .: Rudy Carpenter. After signing with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and performing well enough to stick around on the club's practice squad despite the presence of the fourth-round pick McGee, Carpenter was signed to the active roster of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through the year. He bounced back and forth between Tampa's practice squad and 53-man roster over the past couple years, though he appeared in only one game, and was claimed by the Cowboys on waivers in April.
Expected to compete with McGee for a roster spot or possibly to stick around on the team's practice squad, Carpenter has six touchdowns and one interception in nine career preseason appearances.
Tony Romo: Another career season for Romo only yielded eight wins for the Cowboys in 2011. It's not at all out of the question for him to put up even better numbers in 2012, but can the team capitalize?
Kyle Orton: An ideal backup, he'll give the Cowboys a chance to win each week if Romo is out for an extended period.
Stephen McGee: There doesn't appear to be much of an upside to keeping McGee, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Could he net a draft pick via trade?
Rudy Carpenter: If McGee is jettisoned, the club will want keep a third QB on the practice squad. Though he's been a pro for three years already, Carpenter is still eligible.