Who will back up quarterback Dak Prescott for the Dallas Cowboys?

FRISCO, Texas -- Rightfully so, all of the focus surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' offseason so far has been on quarterback Dak Prescott.

There will be more clarity on his future by Tuesday, when the Cowboys will have to use the $37.7 million franchise tag on him for a second straight year if the sides do not reach an agreement on a long-term deal. There have been discussions, labeled as positive, but that means little until Prescott signs the richest deal in franchise history.

What we do know is Prescott will be the Cowboys' starting quarterback in 2021.

What we don't know is who will be his backup.

Andy Dalton is a free agent and would like to be a starting quarterback again. He went 4-5 as Prescott's replacement in 2020, while dealing with a concussion and a stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list in consecutive weeks. He had 14 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. He had a personally satisfying victory in Week 14 against the Bengals in his return to Cincinnati, and two weeks later threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles in a Week 16 win.

Dalton made $3 million last season as Prescott's backup. With incentives, he could have made $7 million.

If Dalton does not find a spot to be a starting quarterback or at least compete for a job, then returning to the Cowboys makes a lot of sense. One of the reasons he signed with the Cowboys was Dallas is now his home, so it is convenient for his family. Provided the price is right, the Cowboys would like him to return, but understand his desire to be a starter elsewhere.

Paying Dalton a similar rate in 2021 makes sense.

But what if he gets a better offer -- financially and playing time -- from another team and he's gone?

The Cowboys have Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci under contract. Gilbert and DiNucci each started one game last season. Rush spent most of his time on the Cowboys' practice squad.

Gilbert's performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 was much more impressive than DiNucci's game against the Eagles in Week 8. Gilbert completed 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards with a touchdown and interception in his first NFL start.

DiNucci struggled so badly against Philadelphia -- 21-of-40, 180 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions -- the Cowboys started Gilbert the next week against Pittsburgh despite him being on the roster less than two weeks. Perhaps it is unfair to judge the 2020 seventh-round pick with no real offseason training after one start, but the Cowboys quickly moved on from DiNucci.

Save for a short time with the New York Giants last season, Rush has been around the Cowboys since 2017, but has thrown only three passes in his career and none since his rookie season.

In the past, the Cowboys have been willing to spend big on the backup quarterback spot (Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton) and willing to take risks with inexperienced backups (Kellen Moore in 2016 and Rush).

While the belief is Prescott will be completely recovered from the compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, do the Cowboys risk going the inexperienced route again with somebody like Gilbert, or do they go with a proven veteran?

If Dalton goes elsewhere, there could be veteran options available, such as Colt McCoy, Jacoby Brissett or Brian Hoyer.

What about the 2021 NFL draft? Coach Mike McCarthy believes in quarterback development and comes from the Green Bay Packers' school of drafting a prospect at that position each year. It seems doubtful Dallas would draft a quarterback at No. 10 overall, even if Prescott is on the franchise tag, but players such as Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Jamie Newman (Georgia) or Sam Ehlinger (Texas) might be prospects to keep an eye on.

Before last season, Prescott had never missed a start in his pro career. He had not missed many snaps, either. Prescott's ankle injury should provide some pause, but recent history indicates the Cowboys would be OK going young and inexperienced at backup.

Early in Tony Romo's time as the Cowboys' starter, Dallas had proven veterans such as Johnson, Kitna and Orton. Once Romo's back troubles surfaced later in his career, the Cowboys went with inexpensive options, like Brandon Weeden and Moore, while drafting Prescott in the fourth round in 2016.

If Dalton moves on, Gilbert would seem to be at the top of the Cowboys' preferred list.