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Cowboys Still Find QBs Without Big Investment


SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – This note on the probability of the Miami Dolphins selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft with the fifth pick gave me pause:

The Miami Dolphins have only drafted two quarterbacks in the first round since 1967, Dan Marino in 1983 and Ryan Tannehill in 2012.

Why, that would mean the Dolphins have only drafted three quarterbacks since their 1966 NFL inception, the third being Bob Griese in 1967. That's it. Thought that being rather peculiar.

But only for a minute.

Because wait, in the 60-year history of the Dallas Cowboys, winners of five Supers Bowls in their eight appearances, they have only technically drafted two quarterbacks in the first round:

Craig Morton in 1965.

Troy Aikman in 1989.

That's it.

Now, there needs to somewhat be an asterisk in there.

In 1989, the Cowboys did use their 1990 first-round pick in the supplemental draft to grab Steve Walsh, Jimmy Johnson's former University of Miami quarterback with what turned out to be after that 1-15 season in 1989 the first pick in the NFL Draft that year. But they did turn Walsh into multiple draft choices by trading him during the 1990 season to New Orleans.

Also, the Cowboys in their inaugural 1960 season, with no ability to draft since that year's NFL Draft took place in December 1959, nearly a month before the NFL granted Clint Murchison Jr. and Dallas a franchise, president and general manager Tex Schramm and newly appointed head of personnel Gil Brandt decided to trade their 1961 first-round pick, which eventually would have been the second pick after that 0-11-1 season – expansion franchise Minnesota received the first. Yep, traded away what would have been their first ever NFL draft pick to Washington for an experienced quarterback.

One Eddie LeBaron, who they talked out of retiring.

As Brandt tells the story, new head coach Tom Landry did not think a college quarterback could come into the NFL as a rookie and successfully start without some seasoning. That meant, in the NFL's version of an arranged marriage, SMU and Mount Vernon (Texas) High School quarterback Don Meredith was drafted by the Chicago Bears to keep him away from the upstart AFL Dallas Texans, then – wink-wink – immediately traded him to the Cowboys in that prearranged agreement for a 1962 third-round pick, replacing the third Chicago owner George Halas spent on Meredith.

LeBaron started the 1960 season and 10 games in 1961, Meredith the other four for the Cowboys. LeBaron and Meredith split time in 1962 and partially in 1963, with Meredith basically taking over for good in 1964 on his way to becoming a Ring of Honor quarterback.

Then came Morton in 1965, but remember the Cowboys already had taken a 10th-round flyer in the 1964 draft during the height of the Vietnam War on Navy's Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach, who owed the military five years of service after graduation before joining the Cowboys in 1969. Just so happened that was the year Meredith surprisingly decided to retire and the Cowboys had also traded backup quarterback Jerry Rhome. Staubach instantly became the Cowboys backup QB without having played a game for essentially five years.

And from there it was Morton-Staubach, Staubach taking the reins for good in 1973 after missing almost all of 1972 with a shoulder injury, but already having led the Cowboys to that Super Bowl VI victory in 1971. Now this guy was on his way to not only a Ring of Honor career, but a Pro Football Hall of Fame one as well and was included as part of the NFL's 100th anniversary season among the top 100 players of all-time.

Then how about this for luck? The Cowboys took a third-round flyer on Arizona State quarterback Danny White in 1974. White had committed to play for Memphis in the WFL that year, but when the league folded in 1976, the Cowboys had his rights. Well, he arrives that year, and the Cowboys cut/traded previous backup Clint Longley after his celebrated training camp fight with Staubach. Now White instantly becomes the backup.

Seriously, the Cowboys QB line of succession continues without the use of a first-round quarterback. Then Staubach, beset by concussions, retires April 1, 1980, and White steps right up.

Then, finally, after playing quarterback roulette with White, Gary Hogeboom and Steve Pelluer, along with Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson taking over the franchise in 1989 – and Aikman considered the top signal-caller in that year's draft, the Cowboys actually would spend only their second ever first-round pick in an actual draft on a quarterback, the first pick in the draft by the way, on Aikman, another lucky result of going 3-13 that previous season.

Thus Morton and Aikman, with Walsh coming a few months later in the supplemental draft on what Jones and Johnson would call an insurance/investment move since they had determined Pelluer wasn't their guy in a hurry. Plus, they did not pick up the option that year on White, who was never the same after suffering that broken wrist in the ninth game of 1986.

And really, that's that with the Cowboys using first-round picks on quarterbacks.

Of course, this fortuitous line of QB succession was broken during the spring of 2001, the Cowboys releasing Aikman following an injury-riddled 2000 season, not willing to pay the veteran quarterback's $7 million roster bonus. This began a nomadic wandering in a veritable quarterback desert with the likes of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Henson and Drew Bledsoe, three losing seasons in a five-year span, with only one rather miraculous playoff appearance in 2003.

And when the 2006 season began poorly with Bledsoe at quarterback, then head coach Bill Parcells decided after six games it was high time to go with Tony Romo, signed back in 2003 as no more than a rookie free agent and barely hanging on to a 53-man roster spot his first two seasons as the third quarterback. And truthfully, he might been cut that 2004 season had Carter not fallen out of grace during training camp and subsequently cut out in Oxnard, Calif.

And then, as if all this wasn't enough quarterback fortuitousness for one franchise, trading for its first starting QB (LeBaron), getting another for an arranged third-round pick (Meredith), then with a 10th-round hunch pick (Staubach), then with a third-round gamble on the future (White) and signing a long-shot rookie free agent from then Division I-AA Eastern Illinois (Romo) …

Why, the Cowboys unknowingly land the injured Romo's successor in but the fourth round of the 2016 draft: Dak Prescott.

Talk about the luck of the Cowboys, of all things, exactly what Landry feared from the very start, this kid fresh out of Mississippi State takes over as a raw rookie, once considered barely the third-string quarterback when the Cowboys went to training camp his rookie year. But Prescott starts all 16 games of a 13-3 playoff season and turns into the next franchise quarterback, fixin' to land a ginormous contract for this his fifth season.

How many times can you roll sevens?

Like, stringing together at one point 20 consecutive winning seasons, including those two NFL title-game appearances in the 1960s, two Super Bowl wins in five 1970s' appearances, then winning three Super Bowls in a four-year span of the 1990s and still owning the best regular-season winning percentage in all of the NFL over these 60 years.

All that, and still only having actually drafted two quarterbacks in the first round, Morton with the fifth pick and Aikman with the first.

Maybe that is why the Texas Lottery hooked up as a marketing partner with the Dallas Cowboys. Seriously, nobody but the Cowboys can scratch off such quarterback success with less of an investment.

Truly, can't make this stuff up.