Monday, August 21, 2017

The Morning After: The Kellen Moore Edition

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Kellen Moore (17) is pressured by Indianapolis Colts free safety Darius Butler (20) during the first half at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Brad Loper/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)
Brad Loper/TNS
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Kellen Moore (17) is pressured by Indianapolis Colts free safety Darius Butler (20) during the first half at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Brad Loper/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)
There are certain things the Dallas Cowboys do.

They build things that print money for them.  
They collect amazing artwork (So, I am told.  Repeatedly).
They are not scared of players that scare other organizations off (except, oddly, Randy Moss).
And, they certainly aren't worried about their backup QB ever playing in a real game situation.
As I begin my 20th season of covering the most valuable franchise in the entirety of sports, one cannot help but begin to notice patterns, trends, and habits of the team and how they do business.  And, yes, this applies to how they do business in the preseason and how they hire their backup QBs.
That is my lead today, because while the Jaylon Smith moment is clearly one to discuss this week, it will have to wait until I am done pontificating about the Cowboys going with Kellen Moore when it is rather clear that he has an extremely limited ability to bail them out of trouble in the event he needs to actually play.  
In 2007, the Cowboys went and acquired Brad Johnson who was 39 years old and coming off a 38-year-old season where he seemed to have almost nothing left with a passer rating of 72. Unfortunately for him, he was forced to play with the Vikings in 2006, which is the only way QBs can prove if they can perform.  Standing on the sideline in a baseball hat does not require much besides good posture, so it is best to look convincing over there than to actually enter a game and have to prove it.  He only played in a mop-up game in Washington that year, so despite being as done as one can be, he was invited back in 2008.
In 2008, you may recall, he had to play.  And he was bad.  Incredibly bad.   He had to play in 3 games and the Cowboys were horrible offensively in all of them, mostly because the QB was incapable of playing in the NFL.  They actually won one of those games, a memorable home game against Tampa Bay that ended 13-9.  In fact, records still stand for lowest yards in a Cowboys win of ALL TIME.  Look it up.   172 yards of offense and they won.  When they talk about records that will never be broken, I might put that one up.  102 yards passing from Johnson and he was so bad that they actually thought Brooks Bollinger was a better idea by halftime of a game in New York one week later.  Johnson would end the year with a passer rating of 50 and never play again.  
From 2009-2011, they actually had decent backup QB play.   I don't know if they changed their strategy or just found a better player, but Jon Kitna was excellent.  Kitna was as solid a veteran QB as you would have because he had the arm, the brain, and the desire to actually play and compete.  It was not a retirement program (remember Randall Cunningham's stint as backup QB where he opted out of actually playing when called upon?) but a sincere desire to be there when Tony Romo's collarbone did not hold up.  He was also near 40 years old and his back claimed his career in 2011.  He actually returned for another Romo injury for 1 game in 2013 as well.  I have nothing but respect for Kitna's run.
After Kitna, they signed Kyle Orton in free agency to backup Romo on a 3-year, $10.5 million deal that included $5 million in guaranteed money.  Orton was 30 years old and had a few options, but in his 2 seasons with the Cowboys played only 1 game of substance, the final play-in game in 2013 where he had to beat the Eagles at home.  The Cowboys had the ball at their own 32 with 1:49 to play, down 24-22.  A field goal would make that entire signing bonus worthwhile because it would put the Cowboys in the playoffs.  Instead, on the first play with everything on the line, Orton fired a slant well behind Miles Austin and Brandon Boykin picked it off and sealed yet another 8-8 campaign.  
But, that wasn't how Orton's run ended with the Cowboys.  Instead, he faked his intentions to retire to be allowed to get out of his deal (and Dallas out of his contract) to go play his final NFL action in Buffalo in 2014.  Orton bizarrely wanted out of Dallas.
So, back to the drawing board in 2014.  Brandon Weeden, 30, was called upon and then quickly exposed as largely ineffective when Romo needed a game off against Arizona in November of that dream season.   He put up a passer rating that Brad Johnson could relate to - 50 - and Romo hurried back to join the team in London, despite the medical staff wondering about the wisdom behind it.  Romo knew the quarterback play behind him, so he was willing to risk his health.  
In 2015, the Cowboys were undaunted.  Surely Romo's health is fine and Weeden will be fine as his backup --which could only mean they don't think he will have to play (Narrator: He did have to play).  Romo was predictably hurt again in Week 2 of 2015, in which point Weeden was inserted and engineered 3 consecutive losses in which the coaching staff clearly asked him to check down repeatedly for mysterious reasons given that he had been in the offense for over a year.  They panic-traded for Matt Cassel and then rushed to sign Kellen Moore to the practice squad (and then promoted him when it was clear Weeden and Cassel had no solutions) when the Lions released him on cutdown day.  Moore was previously undrafted but grew into the backup role in Detroit under - yes, Scott Linehan.  
I will give Moore this, in 2015 after Weeden and Cassel, his willingness to sling the ball all over the field was a breath of fresh air.  He was not scared of the moment and he wasn't overly cautious.  He had a very limited arm, but he wasn't willing to play like it - for better or for worse.  
Then, riding in on a horse, was Dak Prescott to not only save the backup QB position, but to quickly replace Tony Romo as well.  Nobody can articulate just how amazing Prescott has been to just about everything that has anything to do with the Cowboys organization.  He has already exceeded any normal expectation level for any 4th round draft pick quarterback.  Already.
But, with that comes a great problem.  No longer are you hoping that he could be the best backup QB Tony Romo has ever had (not a steep mountain).  But, now you are trying to find him a backup.  The problem?  The Cowboys haven't been looking very hard.
They have felt that Kellen Moore will be fine.  Like Brad Johnson, Kyle Orton, and Weeden, that could only mean that they assume he won't need to play.  And the only thing that can expose the folly is by making him play in actual games.  Let's hope that doesn't happen, but even in exhibitions it is clear that Cooper Rush can give him a real run for his money.  Nobody is doubting his mental capacity as a future coach, and Jason Garrett may relate and Scott Linehan may consider him a young apprentice and coach-in-waiting.  
But, can he do all you can realistically hope a backup QB can do?  Go 2-2 or 3-3 over a 4-6 week absence from your QB1?  I don't think I can see it.  And I don't think he is even in a competition.  I think they decided on Kellen Moore long ago and the other's don't have an honest chance.  That doesn't mean I am ready for the Cooper Rush show or even Luke McCown.   Rush may have something, but I don't think he can be anything beyond a future piece after a year on the back of the roster or practice squad.  In fact, much like my Darren McFadden apprehension, it isn't that there is a much better solution on the roster.  Rather, it is curious that they have done so little to try to create competition or upgrade a spot that, frankly, seems easy to upgrade.  It has led me to believe that if Prescott is gone for 6 weeks, their primary solution will be to speed-dial Romo again.  He might laugh at them, but I swear that must be the plan.  Otherwise, they are just being reckless.  
You know, reckless at backup QB, like they were many other years since I have covered them.  It seems the solution has been to hope their QB doesn't get hurt.  They aren't the only team in the league to feel that way - many teams take that approach, it seems.  But, we don't cover those teams.  We cover a team that has been bit by this strategy enough times to suggest you would think they would have a better plan than this by now.  
 Reports surfaced this weekend that the Cowboys are now officially concerned about QB2.  That probably means nothing because asking a QB to join your organization in late August is never easy with everything that a QB has to know to have a chance to compete.  But it staggers the mind that they are just discovering that Moore might not inspire confidence throughout the organization.    
In other words: stay healthy, Dak. 

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