Progress Report

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Progress Report: Gilbert Made Most Of QB Audition

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(Editor's Note: NFL rosters change wildly from year to year. This year will be no different, as the Cowboys seek to upgrade their roster via free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 6-10 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will evaluate those players who are already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we continue the series with quarterback Garrett Gilbert.)

The Good: When a guy puts himself in conversation for the 2021 backup job based largely on one performance, he's done something right. Signed off Cleveland's practice squad two days after Dak Prescott's season-ending ankle injury, Gilbert became the fourth quarterback to start a game for Dallas in 2020. (That hadn't happened in a Cowboys season since 2015, when Tony Romo fractured his collarbone twice, and 2001, the first year after Troy Aikman's retirement). The Cowboys didn't beat the undefeated Steelers in November, but Gilbert gave them a chance on short notice. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, plus three carries for 28 yards. The Steelers squeaked out a 24-19 win, but the Cowboys — heavy underdogs without Prescott or Andy Dalton in the lineup — led most of the game at AT&T Stadium.

The Bad: Again, we're talking about a very small sample size here. If we want to pick apart Gilbert's cameo, the Cowboys' offense couldn't finish the job that day despite the most complete team performance all season. Leading 19-15 in the second half, the offense came up empty on its final four drives, including a punt, a Gilbert interception and a turnover on downs. The offense went 0-2 in the red zone, an on-again, off-again problem no matter who's been in at quarterback.

Best Of 2020: Best play of the game? Probably Gilbert's over-the-shoulder throw to Amari Cooper for a 32-yard gain on the opening drive against Pittsburgh. The offense had been in gridlock the previous three games, averaging 250 total yards and seven points — all losses. Gilbert actually jump-started the passing game and made plays with his feet. Generally speaking, his story to Dallas is a pretty good one. The Texas native almost got into coaching at his alma mater, SMU, in 2017 before the Panthers called and signed him to the practice squad. From there, he became the Alliance of American Football's leading passer in 2019 before the league suspended operations, and then caught on with the Browns before the Cowboys signed him.

Contract Consideration: Gilbert signed a two-year deal when he arrived in October, so he's still under contract for 2021 despite limited action.

What's Next: The biggest quarterback question in Dallas continues to be, without question, Prescott's contract status. The No. 2 spot is yet to be determined, too. Andy Dalton is set to be an unrestricted free agent after leading the Cowboys to three straight wins and the brink of the playoffs last season. For the first time in his career, he has a chance to hit the open market in March and seek a starting opportunity elsewhere. If that happens, Gilbert becomes a logical option to back up Prescott next season. He and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore spent one preseason together as backups with the Lions in 2015, so there's some built-in familiarity there. The Cowboys could look to free agency or the draft for competition, but a tighter salary cap might impact those decisions more than in a normal year. Currently, Gilbert and last year's seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci are the only QBs currently under contract, though the Cowboys have the option to franchise-tag Prescott for a second straight year if needed.

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