Phillips: Why There Are Two Sides To The Great 'Draft A Quarterback' Debate

IRVING, Texas– Tony Romo's left collarbone will heal again. He has another 4-5 years of great football left in his career, Jerry Jones believes.

Yet, given Romo's injuries over the last three years – back surgery at the end of 2013, two transverse process fractures in 2014, two collarbone fractures in a two-month span in 2015 – a popular question was posed to Jones on his weekly radio show Tuesday:

Is it time to draft a quarterback in the first round next spring and start at least grooming Romo's successor?

There are really two reasons for this question: 1) the Cowboys have lost nine straight games since 2013 when Romo is not in the starting lineup, which lends credence to the idea of investing in a developmental backup; and 2) turning 36 in April, Romo won't play forever.

Jones estimates Romo has several years left. He didn't bite on the prospect of drafting a first-round quarterback in 2016, probably in part because there's absolutely no telling where the Cowboys will draft and who might be available.

The draft is just under five months away. The organization is focused on these next five games with Matt Cassel under center.

When you think about it, though, there are really two sides to this entire issue:

1) The Cowboys have only drafted one quarterback since Romo parlayed a skimpy $10,000 undrafted signing bonus into a $100 million extension, a page ripped from a Charles Perrault fairy tale. (Stephen McGee, a fourth-rounder in 2009, didn't pan out.) Factor in a seven-game losing streak without Romo this year, and you sort of assume they're due to spend a pick on the game's most important position. History says it better be a high pick, too – 14 of the 18 quarterbacks who qualify as "franchise" guys in my book, meaning at least three straight years starting for their respective teams, were first-round picks. Six were No. 1 overall picks.

2) There's the simple matter of this proverbial championship 'window' that has been referenced for years now with regard to the Romo-era Cowboys, and just how much longer before it shuts on him for good.

This is where I have pause. Because if you believe Romo still has great football ahead of him in the latter half of his 30s, then you must devote future resources to building the best team *around *him possible, right?

A young quarterback learning, waiting on the sideline, doesn't accomplish that.

Sure, it might make you sleep better at night believing you won't spend another five years searching for the next long-term answer when the time comes for Romo to pass the torch. The Cowboys did have a bumpy ride from 2001-05, averaging seven wins a season in between Troy Aikman and No. 9.

But, are you sure that a rookie quarterback, no matter how talented, could step in next year as an injury replacement, if needed, and win games?

And, for example, where would this defense be without Byron Jones, the 2015 first-round pick who has played approximately 38 different spots in the secondary this year?

Drafting an impact player at another position would be more helpful to Tony Romo next year. Of course, finding the eventual starter after Romo is critical to the team's long-term outlook for sustained success.

Bottom line, it's way too early to know what the Cowboys will do in the offseason, and at 3-8, they're mathematically still playing for a playoff spot.

But for now, it's a great debate.

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