OXNARD, Calif. – In the span of about five minutes on Friday, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones made it perfectly clear how he sees the backup quarterback position going forward.
Amid non-stop questions about Tony Romo's health over 16 games, Cowboys officials insisted Friday that they're much more concerned about developing the young quarterbacks on their roster than pursuing veteran free agents.
Specifically, Jones said there's a model in the AFC North that he'd be happy to follow in the years to come.
"Cincinnati last year had a really solid football team. You look at what they did with A.J., a fifth-round pick out of the SEC and he came in and had every opportunity and, nothing to do with him, had a chance to win a playoff game for them," Jones said. "So, at some point you've got to commit your resources to getting your young guys ready or you're always in that mode of older, veteran guys."
Jones is referring, of course, to A.J. McCarron – who the Bengals drafted No. 164 overall in 2014 to develop behind Andy Dalton. McCarron was pressed into service last year when Dalton broke his thumb, and he went 2-1 as a starter during Cincinnati's run to the playoffs.
McCarron also completed 56 percent of his passes for 212 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Bengals' 18-16 playoff loss to Pittsburgh, doing his part to get Cincinnati into the second round of the playoffs.
"They developed him," Jones said. "He really played well for the Bengals in Cincinnati, and we've got to do the same thing."
That puts the writing squarely on the wall for the Cowboys. They just drafted a mid-round SEC project of their own in Dak Prescott, and they elected to retain Kellen Moore as the primary candidate for the backup job behind Romo.
Asked if he was interested in pursuing a more experienced option, such as recently-released Rams quarterback Nick Foles, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones didn't mince any words.
"Foles isn't an option," he said. "We can't get him any snaps. We've got four that are going to get snaps."
That means it will be a youth movement behind Romo this summer. Moore is the oldest and most experienced of the backup options, with 27 years and two starts to his name. Prescott, a former Heisman Trophy contender, reports for his rookie season at the age of 23. There's also Jameill Showers, who is set to begin his second training camp after spending a season on the Cowboys' practice squad.
"There are plenty of reps over the course of the next couple of weeks to get those guys ready," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "We also wanted to develop a quarterback. That's why we drafted Dak. That's why we're giving Showers a chance at that third quarterback position."
That doesn't necessarily mean the Cowboys are done addressing their roster, as usual. Garrett and Stephen Jones reminded that they're constantly looking for ways to improve the roster.
On top of that, the obvious hope is that none of the Cowboys' reserve quarterbacks will even be necessary. Romo went through the entire OTA and minicamp regimen, and both his back and collarbone are at full strength from the ailments that have limited him in recent seasons.
"I feel confident," Garrett said. "And obviously Tony has done more this off-season and we're excited about where he is from a health standpoint."
Ultimately, it will fall to Romo to help the Cowboys right the ship from last year's 4-12 campaign. But after years of experimenting with older quarterbacks, the front office seems ready to try its hand at developing its own new quarterback – just like it did with Romo himself.
"I think Tony where he is in his career, we're starting a journey and obviously made a significant pick there with Dak," Stephen Jones said. "And we obviously like what we've seen in Showers. And think Kellen is mature beyond his years and comfortable with where we are."