Veteran QBs? No thanks -- Cowboys want backups with potential

The Cowboys drafted Mike White out of Western Kentucky in the fifth round of this year's draft. AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

FRISCO, Texas -- When Jason Garrett came to the Dallas Cowboys in 2007 as the offensive coordinator, Tony Romo had started only 10 games in his career.

Garrett wanted a veteran to mentor Romo, and the Cowboys signed Brad Johnson. In 2009, the Cowboys traded for Jon Kitna. In 2012, they added Kyle Orton.

They have moved on from that philosophy completely, even with a young quarterback in Dak Prescott.

A year ago, Cooper Rush served as the No. 2 quarterback for most of the season. A few weeks ago, the Cowboys selected Western Kentucky's Mike White in the fifth round of the draft.

They have no plans to go after a veteran backup, such as, say, Matt Moore.

The change in philosophy falls on two players: Matt Cassel and Prescott.

After losing Romo to a broken collarbone in the second game of the 2015 season, the Cowboys acquired Cassel in a trade from the Buffalo Bills as insurance for Brandon Weeden, who elevated to the starting role.

Cassel went 1-6 as a starter and had five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones figured then that it was better to go down swinging with a young quarterback after the money he spent on Cassel and the draft pick given up to get him (a fifth-rounder).

When Kellen Moore got hurt in training camp in 2016, the Cowboys flirted with the idea of trading for Josh McCown but would not give in to the Cleveland Browns' demands (believed to be a second-round pick). They also thought about adding Nick Foles, but Jones shot that idea down only to see Foles quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles to a win in Super Bowl LII last February.

Instead, the Cowboys rolled the dice on Prescott, who produced one of the best rookie seasons -- 23 touchdown passes, four interceptions, 13 wins -- in NFL history.

"I'm not taking anything away from him, but he was unique and let us compete with him coming in as a rookie," Jones said. "That success buoys my confidence that you can win some games with rookie quarterbacks, and they win some games with rookie quarterbacks that aren't first-round picks."

Before joining the Cowboys, Johnson started 122 games for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning a Super Bowl in Tampa. Kitna started 115 games with the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions before going to Dallas. Orton had started 69 games with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs before signing as a free agent.

Weeden even went to the Cowboys after 20 starts in two seasons with the Cleveland Browns -- and he was 31 when he signed with the Cowboys.

A year ago at this time, Rush was an unknown undrafted free agent from Central Michigan, where he was a four-year starter and had 90 touchdown passes and 55 interceptions. Through organized team activities and minicamp -- and even early in training camp -- he did not attract much attention.

In the preseason games, however, he shined, throwing six touchdown passes without an interception, going from an afterthought to a must-keep on the 53-man roster.

He threw only three passes, completing one for 2 yards as the backup to Prescott, but the Cowboys are confident in his development.

White became just the sixth quarterback the Cowboys have drafted since Jones became the owner and general manager in 1989, not including Steve Walsh, who was selected in the supplemental draft in 1990.

In two seasons at Western Kentucky, he had 63 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

"We want competition there. I think we've said it's been historically what we've done. I don't necessarily know if that's right, but to have good competition at the quarterback position with Cooper is a good thing," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Obviously, you put this kind of resource into a quarterback, we could easily carry three, and I think that's very healthy in terms of having competition. Obviously, Coach Garrett stresses that. That's what we feel like we've done with that is create depth and competition at all levels, and at the same time, draft players with upside to develop into players who can help us win football games."

In Romo's latter years, the Cowboys went how he went. From 2013-15, the Cowboys were 1-13 without him starting because of back or collarbone injuries. In 2016, Prescott changed everything.

They now have yet to experience a start without Prescott, but Jerry Jones does not worry about the young quarterbacks.

"It's the best way I can say it: I don't want time -- game time, preseason or regular season -- if we're without our starting quarterback, I don't want to use that time out there not to be testing and evaluating whether our quarterback or [another] player has the makeup or the psyche to compete," Jerry Jones said. "And the only place you can get that is in live action. So when we're in a situation and we don't have, for whatever reason, Dak out there, I want somebody that's got the future, because I think that gives tremendous value to the franchise and it gives us an opportunity at arguably the hardest position to get really good at it."