As NFL free agency madness rolls on, the Dallas Cowboys have made a series of moves to fill roster spots. Added were a potential impact player in the safety/linebacker hybrid Keanu Neal, a proven run-stuffer in defensive lineman Brent Urban and more, but one massive question mark still remains on the other side of the football. Who will play backup to quarterback Dak Prescott in 2021?
The question was presented to head coach Mike McCarthy at his first offseason press conference.
Mike McCarthy on Cowboys’ backup QB situation following Andy Dalton’s departure: “It’s definitely a position we’ll continue to look at.” Team has spoken to some veteran quarterbacks in free agency, he added.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 25, 2021
With Andy Dalton leaving Dallas in favor of a starting job with the Chicago Bears to the tune of a $10 million salary on his one-year deal, the Cowboys lack the veteran presence in the QB room to sit behind Prescott that proved to be pivotal in 2020 following Prescott’s catastrophic ankle injury.
The names who remain in the QB room from last season are Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci and practice squad retread Cooper Rush. Gilbert had an impressive performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers that saw him throw for 243 yards and a touchdown, but only after DiNucci was thrown to the wolves in Philidelphia the previous week. One good game from Gilbert will not be enough of an insurance policy for the Cowboys going forward.
With just five years of NFL experience between the two combined, there remains a massive void in the quarterback room. The answer to this mystery may be a man very familiar to the Cowboys after his team won the NFC East in 2020: Alex Smith.
This move makes way too much sense from an experience standpoint as the 36-year-old enters free agency for the first time in his career. The three-time Pro Bowler Smith offers up 167 starts across 14 years of league experience with five playoff appearances. Smith is the perfect veteran who understands the game in ways Gilbert nor DiNucci could represent.
Another reason this could be the perfect pairing is the similarities and connection between Smith and Prescott after both men had season-ending ankle injuries. Smith was knocked out of the 2018 season and as infections ravaged his leg post-surgery, missed the entire 2019 campaign. He returned to play eight games in 2020, with the Washington Football Team going 5-1 with him as starter.
Prescott even credited Smith’s recovery through a more severe injury for giving him the motivation to work back from his own after signing his new contract with the Cowboys.
“To see somebody who has already done it, and did it in worse circumstances, that allowed my mind to just go straight to, ‘I can do this.'”
-Dak Prescott on how Alex Smith has inspired him in his injury recovery pic.twitter.com/ZionLO7P9l
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) March 10, 2021
Smith’s performance wasn’t earth shattering, as he threw just six touchdowns against eight interceptions last season. Washington was devoid of much weaponry, but it was clear Smith was not able to perform as he did prior to the injury. Whether or not a full offseason of work and being yet another year removed from the injury correct that is a question the front office will need to consider, but that question is posed against the backdrop of having Gilbert in their back pocket for another season.
There are plenty of options in the free-agent market who could give the Cowboys a veteran presence at QB, such as Chase Daniel or Geno Smith, but the story behind Smith may add up way too well. Bringing in Smith after his departure from division rival Washington would provide an immediate upgrade to the QB2 spot and give Prescott a great mentor to learn from as he makes his campaign for Comeback Player of the Year in 2021.
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