Spagnola: Let's Not Assume Drafting A QB At No. 4 Is The Elixir To 4-12

*       IRVING, Texas* – For those stumping during these offseason primaries for the Dallas Cowboys to select a quarterback with the fourth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, fine, but allow me to then ask:

         Who's the 2016 backup?

         Who steps onto the field with 5:24 left in the third quarter of Game 2 with the outcome still on the line to pull out the victory if Tony Romo should get injured?

Who starts the next week and the week after that if needed?

That guy? The guy who has yet to take a snap in an NFL regular-season game? The guy whose last snap under center in a game that counted could have been against Jacksonville State? The guy who has started all of 24 games since leaving high school?

That guy?

That kind of guy?

This is no knock on Carson Wentz, who has yet to play a home football game more than 200 miles from his hometown of Bismarck, N.D., since judging from afar he seems to be the most talented quarterback in this draft. Who knows, maybe that guy ends up being Jared Goff, the Cal quarterback, the pair figuring to be the top two QBs when it comes to the bevy of quarterbacks available in this draft.

But do you really think two sets of minicamp practices, nine OTA workouts and whatever that quarterback gets in training camp/preseason, would be enough for the guy who didn't play above the FCS level to even have a chance of winning a game so early in his rookie season?

Now, I know the rejoinder to that: Well, those veteran quarterbacks the Cowboys leaned on last year didn't win, either. Right-o, but seems as if the trick this year is to be better at backup, you know, just in case. And need I remind you Brandon Weeden did come in in Game 2 to throw the game-clinching 42-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and did have 28 points by halftime on the board the following Sunday against Atlanta and did lead the late fourth-quarter comeback against New Orleans to force overtime.

Weeden did give this team a chance.

There also is the argument, well, Tennessee and Tampa Bay got their first-round drafted quarterbacks ready to play from the get-go this past season. Fine, but they had no other choice. They gave those guys all those starter reps in preparation. That won't happen with the return of the 2014 season's best QB in the NFL, who by the way, will need all the work he can get to prepare for the 2016 season after playing in just four games last year.

Not saying having said quarterback ready for quality backup duty by the start of the season is impossible, but will say it's improbable if you believe in betting on percentages.

So go ahead, take that quarterback with the fourth pick in the draft, but you had better convince yourself this guy is Troy Aikman or Peyton Manning or Matthew Stafford or Andrew Luck, those once-in-a-blue-moon quarterbacks who don't come around but maybe every five or so years. Because do so, and you don't immediately solve the biggest problem dragging the Cowboys down to 4-12 last year:

Backup quarterback.

Never figured out how to win without Tony Romo. Yeah, we blame the defense, only 11 takeaways, not near enough quarterback pressure and few, if any, late-game stops. But 10 times last season the Cowboys failed to score more than 20 points in a game. They lost nine of them, beating only Philly in the second week, 20-10. Eight times the Cowboys held opponents to no more than 20 points over four quarters. They won only three of them, losing games when giving up just 10, 13, 16 and 19 points.

Nightmare.

So come on, tell me logically, who is the 2016 Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback if they take a groomer with the fourth pick?

Kellen Moore? Hmmm, he deserves the right to compete for the position, but certainly is not some walk-in incumbent.

Jameill Showers? Come on.

Have you looked at the list of veteran free-agent quarterbacks, guys who can at least rely on some experience to survive in a pinch with limited preparation? But who among them also is willing to give up on signing where they might still have a chance to compete for a starting job?

Here is one list of backup candidates with now less than a week before the March 9 start to free agency: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chase Daniel, Matt Moore, Matt Schaub, Colt McCoy, Drew Stanton, Matt Hasselbeck, T.J. Yates, Tavaris Jackson, Luke McCown, with most likely Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel (heaven help us) to come.

Now there was a time when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said drafting a quarterback with the fourth pick in the draft might be the best solution for the backup quarterback spot, a double-dip. Eventually, maybe, assuming they pick the right guy. But third quarter, Game 2, I'd think not. The Cowboys would still have to cover themselves with a veteran alternative.

 There also seems to be an assumption that just because you select a quarterback in the first round you've solved all the cares in the world. Recent history tells us not necessarily when it comes to finding a true franchise quarterback.

Check this out. Since the turn of the century, 40 quarterbacks have been selected in the first round of the drafts between 2000 and 2014 – let's exclude the two from the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, for lack of evidence. Of course, none by the Cowboys.

By my count, 13 of those 40 seemingly have turned or are turning into franchise quarterbacks: Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and, with some leeway after just two years of evidence, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.

There are six others whose franchise-ness could be debated: Michael Vick, David Carr, Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.

That means 21 of those first-round picks going back to that 2000 draft have ended up in the vast landfill of quarterbacks: Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, J.P. Losman, Jason Campbell, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III, E.J. Manuel, Johnny Manziel.

Of those in the latter two groups, four were actually the first picks in the draft: Vick, Carr, Bradford and Russell. Eleven more were top 12 picks. And if you really want to make your quarterback skin crawl, take a look at the top three picks in the 1999 draft, along with the five drafted in the first round: 1. Tim Couch, 2. Donovan McNabb, 3. Akili Smith, like one for three there. Worse, Daunte Culpepper went 11th and Cade McNown went 12th. Oops. And the quarterbacks taken that year in Rounds 3-5 included Shaun King, Brock Huard, Joe Germaine, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Daft.

Oh, remember the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 1997 draft? Why, Jim Druckenmiller. First quarterback taken in the 1996 draft, not until the second round? Tony Banks.

All blatantly underscoring how utterly fortunate the Cowboys were to unearth some undrafted kid, whose combine invite was only to service the wide-receiver workouts, named Tony Romo.

The Cowboys are routinely blamed for rarely drafting a quarterback since selecting Aikman with the first pick in the 1989 draft, and then using what turned out to be the first pick in the 1990 draft to select Steve Walsh in the 1989 supplemental draft. The only two they did select in the past 26 drafts, Bill Musgrave with a fourth-round pick in 1991 and Stephen McGee with a fourth-rounder in 2009, certainly didn't pan out.

In the 56-year history of the Dallas Cowboys they have drafted 32 quarterbacks. (A 33rd, Isaiah Stanback, was selected as a wide receiver in 2007, not a quarterback.) They've basically hit on six, in baseball terms batting .187, definitely below the Mendoza Line. The QB six-pack includes Roger Staubach, Craig Morton, Danny White, Steve DeBerg, Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh. DeBerg didn't make the team, but ended up playing for six teams over an 18-year career. Walsh's value came in a trade, going to the New Orleans Saints early in the 1990 season for a first, second and third. The Cowboys did trade Morton in 1975 to the Giants for what turned out to be the second pick in the draft, fetching them Randy White.

Oh, and remember they were merely taking long-shot flyers on Staubach and White, using a 10th-rounder in 1964 knowing Staubach had to first serve five years in the Navy, and a third-rounder in 1974 knowing White was on his way to playing in the WFL, which predictably folded after two more seasons, thus his rights reverting back to the Cowboys in 1976.

We can argue about the merits of adding a seventh, maybe an eighth, to the list of QB hits. The Cowboys signed Jim Zorn as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1975, tried to hide him out, but ultimately waived him to make room for Preston Pearson, acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh. Also, Dan Werner, an eighth-round pick in 1973 ultimately ended up as the Cowboys' business manager in Tex Schramm's front office. That might count for something.[embeddedad0]

So not exactly quarterback draft connoisseurs.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to this quarterback decision: Take one with the fourth pick; take one down the line; sign a veteran backup.

When recently asked if he'd be comfortable with a rookie as the backup quarterback he said, "No … no … no. Oh, backup quarterback playing? That's a good question and would have to be weighed. I don't have an answer there on how comfortable we would feel, that was too quick an answer on my part, really.

"The reps, that's a factor. How many reps if you use that pick on a quarterback, how many reps he could get relative to potentially having a third quarterback, that's who you would want taking the reps in a game right now. That's certainly a fertile area to have a lot of thought and discussion in."

Then when asked, so you'll need a veteran backup?

"Let's not go there," Jones said. "I wouldn't want to rule out a veteran backup, but I'm not ready because that covers a lot of ground on what a veteran backup is.

"I'm not ready to commit there."

No need to. Not yet. The draft is still 55 days away.

But free agency begins Wednesday, five days away. The Cowboys can't wait long on that veteran backup decision. That well figures to dry up in a hurry. Then what?

Just can't lose sight on the real reason why they were 4-12 last year, and let's back that up:

Fewest passing yards (3,677) since 3,639 in 2005.

Rest my case. 

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