At this time last year, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL preparing for a season with a loaded offensive unit. Dak Prescott was continuing to ascend into the upper echelon of players at his position and he also provided the team with one of the most valuable qualities needed at quarterback, he was always available.
Until the gruesome season-ending ankle injury suffered against the New York Giants in Week 5, Prescott had started each of the 69 games that the Cowboys had played during the beginning of his young career.
Luckily, Dallas didn’t tempt fate last offseason and brought in a solid, veteran backup in Andy Dalton. For the majority of Prescott’s time as the stalwart starter, the Cowboys had shrugged off the need for insurance. The Dalton signing proved to be prescient as the former TCU standout helped the Cowboys stay in the playoff hunt, something that probably wouldn’t have happened if seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci or Garrett Gilbert were forced to play the final 11 games.
With Dalton off to Chicago, the Cowboys are in a precarious position behind Prescott once again. If Prescott gets injured again, or doesn’t fully heal from last year’s injury, the depth chart shows that the team would be forced to turn to DiNucci or Gilbert.
For a team with rebound aspirations, that’s not good enough to keep the Cowboys in contention if either were pressed into action. DiNucci showed he wasn’t ready for primetime in his only start last season, and, despite Gilbert’s decent showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the former Texas Longhorn shouldn’t be the primary backup.
There are better options available, and the Cowboys need to seriously be looking into some of them to avoid a situation where their season goes off the rails without Prescott.
They should start with veteran QB Alex Smith.
When Prescott signed his new contract this offseason, one of the people he thanked for helping his recovery was his division rival Smith. Like Prescott, Smith had a major leg injury, one that required 17 surgeries and sitting out a season to get healthy, before he was able to come back and play again. If Prescott was inspired by Smith, imagine what could happen if Smith was in the quarterback's room with him to help Prescott’s rehab journey.
Aside from just having the injury in common, the soon-to-be 37-year old Smith is the best QB still available. Smith helped lead the Washington Football Team to an NFC East title in 2020 and, like Prescott, he has excellent mobility, so there are some things that the team can keep in the playbook.
The former first-overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft doesn’t have the arm strength to throw the ball downfield like Prescott, but Smith does win games. Smith is extremely accurate on the short to intermediate throws, which keeps the chains moving. He won’t take too many risks and plays it safe in most situations, but Smith is a savvy QB who would provide Dallas with opportunities to win if he was forced into action.
Smith isn’t the only option, but he’s the best one. He wouldn’t come cheap and he might prefer to sign after the draft, hoping a team misses out on their future signal-caller, but the Cowboys should try to bring in the 2020 Comeback Player of the Year.
Other quarterbacks still available include Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley, Nick Mullens and Blake Bortles. The team could also draft someone, but it’s difficult to see them selecting one high enough to be impactful in 2021 with other needs that have to be addressed.
No one on that list is as good as Alex Smith and it’s hard to believe a late-round flyer in the draft could outperform him. If the Cowboys want to avoid a bad situation where they’re forced into playing a backup, they cannot be content with DiNucci or Gilbert.
The Cowboys should be exploring the idea of signing veteran quarterback Alex Smith. He’s potentially the only QB still available who can keep the team on the right path if something should happen to Dak Prescott again. Dallas need not take chances at the game’s most important position.
Do you think the Cowboys need a veteran backup quarterback on the roster to act as Dak insurance? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.