Draft Central | 2021

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Spagnola: No High Stakes QB Doubling Down


FRISCO, Texas – With this gold rush-like dash for first-round quarterbacks in next week's NFL Draft taking place, does that not remind you how fortunate the Cowboys have been finding starting-quality, franchise-type quarterbacks for the past 18 seasons?

Or for their entire history?

Talk about slot-machine lucky.

Think about it. There is a chance five teams will spend a first-round pick, maybe even all five in the top-10 of this draft, on a quarterback. Teams have been trading the ranch to position themselves within the top 10 for a quarterback this year.

Or they have traded nearly their first born to acquire a proven veteran quarterback, and in doing so in a few instances, incurred salary-cap crippling amounts of dead money to do so.

This is how desperate teams are to find that guy at quarterback.

We assume Jacksonville will spend the first pick in the draft on Trevor Lawrence. This will mark the third time over the past 12 drafts that the Jaguars are using a first-round pick on a quarterback.

We assume the New York Jets, after trading starter Sam Darnold to Carolina, will select a quarterback. This will be the fourth time this century the Jets are selecting a quarterback in the first round, to go with three more in the second and 12 total in the past 21 drafts.

We assume San Francisco did not spend two future first-round picks and this year's third to switch spots with Miami, moving from No. 12 in the first round to No. 3, to select anything but a quarterback after already using 11 draft choices on quarterbacks this century, and having sent a second to New England in 2017 for quarterback Jimmy Garappolo.

There is a chance Atlanta at No. 4, hoping to squeeze one more year out of veteran QB Matt Ryan, could grab a quarterback. And who knows what Miami will do at No. 6 after trading back up from 12 to six with Philadelphia.

And suddenly the rumors keep swirling – of course this time of year – of New England wanting to swap firsts with the Cowboys at 10 to select a quarterback, and if you're Dallas doing that for a king's ransom should be the price.

That's a whole lot of draft collateral being spent on maybe the hardest position in the draft to properly evaluate.

And here sit the Cowboys. They have not spent a first-round draft pick on a quarterback since selecting Troy Aikman No. 1 in 1989, along with another first-rounder in the supplemental draft a few months later on Steve Walsh. In fact, only three times in franchise history have the Cowboys spent a first-round pick on a quarterback. In 1965, they used the fifth pick in the first round on Craig Morton, then Aikman and the Walsh selection that would have been the first pick in the 1990 draft after that 1-15 season of 1989.

And only three times in franchise history have thy spent as much as a second-round choice on a quarterback: Sonny Gibbs in 1962, Glenn Carano in 1977 and Quincy Carter in 2001. None of those worked out so much.

Why, during their 61-year existence, the Cowboys first finagled an arranged marriage for rookie Don Meredith in 1960, the Chicago Bears selecting the SMU quarterback in that 1960 draft the expansion Cowboys couldn't participate in to keep him out of the upstart AFL. And to make it somewhat kosher, traded him immediately to the Cowboys, taking a 1962 third-round pick for the eventual Ring of Honor QB.

Then four years later, the Cowboys, still without a winning season,

rolled the dice on Navy Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach in the 10th round of the 1964 draft since the Midshipman had a military obligation to serve first. After serving his commitment, Staubach joined the Cowboys in 1969 and unpredictably constructed a Pro Football Hall of Fame QB career after taking over for Morton, who had initially taken over for Meredith.

Staubach then handed off to Danny White in 1980, the Cowboys having gambled a third-round pick in 1974 on the Arizona State quarterback who had signed a personal services contract to play for Memphis in the WFL. The Cowboys were betting on that league eventually folding, which it did the middle of the 1975 season, with White's rights reverting to the Cowboys by 1976.

And then came the Power Ball winners – twice no less – acquiring eventual franchise quarterback Tony Romo as an undrafted free agent in 2003, the guy who would start from the mid-2006 season through 2015, spending 14 years with the Cowboys. And in 2016, with Romo's injuries mounting, the Cowboys selected this kid out of Mississippi State with their _second_ fourth-round pick that year, with the idea of grooming Dak Prescott as Romo's backup.

Well, we know the rest of that story, Dak recovering from last year's severe ankle injury and preparing to start for a sixth season.

You kidding me? The high-level starting careers of those seven quarterbacks – Meredith, Morton, Staubach, White, Aikman, Romo and Prescott – adds up to a combined 697 starts in the franchise's 930 games, all over 74 years of total service. And Dallas spent no more than two first-round picks on two of the guys, and no higher than two third rounders on two of the other five.

That's like draft-day larceny.

Especially compared to other teams driving themselves crazy trying to find just one quarterback, especially this year's bunch congregating atop the first round of 2021.

Which, by the way, is music to the Cowboys' draft ears, as team COO Stephen Jones says, "Certainly with the draft, pretty much unanimous that people are thinking there are five first-round quarterbacks, that certainly helps us out since we signed our quarterback of the future just this spring and know he's our answer to that riddle."

And that riddle might as well be a Rubik's Cube when analyzing the NFL's first-round draft history over the past decade the Cowboys have not been a player in.

Since the 2020 draft is too recent to quantify success or failure when analyzing teams selecting quarterbacks in the first round from 2010-19, here is what I've found over those 10 years:

  • Of the 31 quarterbacks selected in the first round, only seven of those are still with the same team: Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray.
  • Of those seven, every one of them has been drafted over a three-year period from 2017-19.
  • Of the 119 quarterbacks drafted over this 10-year period, just 19 are still with the team drafting them and only 12 still would be considered starters.

And how 'bout these bananas: From Dak's quarterback class of 2016, the three first-rounders that year, Jared Goff No. 1, Carson Wentz No. 2 and Paxton Lynch No. 26, all have moved on from their original teams. And of the 15 quarterbacks selected in that 2016 draft, Dak is the last man standing with his original club. And to think, the Cowboys were attempting, to no avail, to trade back into the first round for Lynch and tried to trade up to the top of the fourth for Connor Cook.

So they simply settled for Rayne Dakota Prescott from tiny Haughton, La.

Talk about fortuitous.

So see, them sure ain't great odds for teams this year paying such a high price to gamble on taking quarterbacks so high in next week's draft. Or for that matter, anywhere else in the draft.

The Cowboys haven't contributed much to these startling numbers. They've only selected two quarterbacks during that 10-year span, Prescott and then Mike White in 2018. And when it comes to this century, other than Carter in 2001, the only other quarterbacks the Cowboys have drafted are Stephen McGee in the fourth round of 2009 and then Ben DiNucci in the seventh round last year. (And for the record, Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback, fourth round of 2007, was selected to play wide receiver.)

That's it.

Now, this doesn't rule out the Cowboys selecting a quarterback next week, and as Jones put it, likely no higher than the middle rounds on Day 3 of the draft. Someone to potentially groom as a future backup. Someone to compete for a roster spot as at least the third guy with the likes of Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and DiNucci. And let's not rule out a more established veteran if one comes free following the draft, as Andy Dalton did last year.

"Certainly, we'll keep our eye on (quarterbacks), just as we did Dak when we had Tony Romo, a guy who could make a lot of sense for us there in the middle rounds," Jones said.

Ha, the Cowboys could only be so lucky to have that leprechaun still sitting on their quarterback shoulders after all these years.

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