QB Situation Looms Large As Cowboys Begin Evaluations At NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS – When they arrived at the NFL Combine last year – or most of the past 25 years, for that matter – the Cowboys knew certain truths about the draft landscape.

When you're picking No. 27 or No. 16 – or even No. 9 – certain aspects of the NFL draft aren't feasible. Coveted talents like Cam Newton, Von Miller, Blake Bortles, Khalil Mack or Jameis Winston won't be available to teams in the middle of the pack unless they come at far too great of a cost.

As the Dallas front office prepares to get an extended look at the cream of this year's crop, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones knows that won't be the case in 2016.

"If anything it probably requires more work, because now everybody is in play," Jones said. "In the past you could probably bet that there's 10 or 12 players that you're not going to see and not going to be able to move up to get."

Sitting at fourth overall in this year's pecking order, there's no option off limits this time around. It's undeniable that one of this draft's elite talents will be available with the No. 4 pick, and the Cowboys are also within striking distance of any prospect they might covet.

"I don't know if pressure's the right word but maybe it is," Jones said. "You want to be successful with this pick and you certainly have a better chance to be successful when you've got more players that we'll have rated high to choose from."

That fact is most intriguing when it relates to this year's quarterback class.

As everyone has to be aware by now, the Cowboys are currently faced with their most tempting quarterback dilemma in at least a decade. Pro Bowl starter Tony Romo is coming off two separate collarbone injuries, and he's set to turn 36 in the spring.

Meanwhile, all of this year's top talents at the position – Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and Carson Wentz – look like viable options with the fourth overall pick. The Cowboys worked extensively with Wentz when they coached the Senior Bowl last month, and they'll have a chance to get acquainted with the other two this week.

For that matter, they'll get their fill of the position. In all, 18 quarterback prospects were invited to this year's Combine, and they'll have the opportunity to work out for NFL scouts on Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It all combines to create a conundrum that has divided fans and analysts for months. With such a lofty pick, do the Cowboys address the game's most important position for the foreseeable future – even if it isn't an immediate need? Or do they add an instant contributor to a team that sees itself as a playoff contender?

With the fourth overall selection, Jones said he'd expect the eventual pick to step right in and play – with the one exception of quarterback.

"We think Tony has three good years, if not more left. We plan on him playing," Jones said. "This guy would be learning from him, not unlike Rodgers did up in Green Bay or Young did in San Francisco. Hopefully that's a benefit to him and he's ready to play, it's not overwhelming."

That thought certainly sounds enticing. It also conjures up problematic thoughts, such as the contract crunch. If a first-round selection sat behind Romo for three years, when and how would the Cowboys see to his second contract?

It's something the Denver Broncos can no doubt relate to, as former second-round pick Brock Osweiler prepares for free agency after just seven career starts. Though, after Osweiler helped the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship this past season, it's doubtful anyone is complaining.

"You hope that it's a problem that you have -- that you're wanting to pay that big option on the end, you're figuring out how to do it," Jones said.

None of this is to suggest that the eventual pick will be a quarterback. There are innumerable other intriguing options the Cowboys must consider. Jones even allowed that, should the Cowboys avoid drafting a quarterback fourth overall, it won't stop them from considering the position later in the draft.

"We haven't made up our minds at all," he said. "If we pick someone other than a quarterback with our first pick, that doesn't mean we're not going to pick one in the second round or the third round or the fourth round."

That's about as much prognostication as one can do as things stand in late-February. The Cowboys have no shortage of confidence in Tony Romo, and they also understand the importance of insuring their future.

The one difference between this year and prior ones, however, is that their options are wide open.

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