Every year, most NFL teams go through some sort of roster churn. Typically, most teams have about a third or more of their roster made up of players who were not with the team the year before. The 2021 Dallas Cowboys are no different in this regard.
While the final roster is far from being set, there are plenty of new faces heading into the first Organized Team Activities set to start next week. With nine veteran free agent signings and eleven draft picks made in the 2021 Draft, the Cowboys are trying to plug several holes from a roster that produced a 6-10 record in 2021.
Overall, the argument can be made that the Dallas Cowboys have done a very good job at building depth at many different positions. Assuming everyone is healthy, the Cowboys have stellar talent at running back, receiver, and the offensive line up and down the depth chart.
The entire defense is full of competition at each level, even if top-tier talent is not in abundance. Dallas has even made an effort to get younger and more talented within their special teams unit.
There is one position, however, in which the Dallas Cowboys are walking a tight rope. It just so happens that one position is the most important on the field.
Unquestionably, the Dallas Cowboys possess one of the top six best quarterbacks in all of football. In four full seasons, Dak Prescott has already been named to the Pro Bowl twice in a conference where Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan have lived ever since he came into the league.
Last year, Prescott was really starting to come into his own and hit that next level when he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his ankle in the fifth game of the season. While the news has been nothing but positive in regards to his rehab and status of the 2021 season, there is not a lot of history regarding how quarterbacks bounce back from that type of injury.
Former Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith had a compound fracture but that injury occurred to his tibia and fibula. He was also 34 at the time of the injury, seven years older than Prescott, and far less mobile at that point in his career.
While I have no doubt in Prescott’s abilities or his status for the season, the depth chart behind him leaves a lot to be desired. Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci, and Cooper Rush (yes he’s back) will all battle for the job of holding a clipboard on game days.
The Dallas Cowboys are betting big on the hopes that will be the only action the winner of that competition will see. For a team with perennial championship aspirations, those could all come crashing down if any of them actually see the field.
Both Gilbert, the leader in the clubhouse at this moment, and DiNucci started a game for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020. While Gilbert looked okay, DiNucci’s start was an exercise in futility. It may not be fair to evaluate them given the status of last year’s offensive line, but both quarterbacks struggled to complete better than 50% of their passes. Neither posted a quarterback rating above 73.0. Not shockingly, the Cowboys were blown out in both games.
As for Rush, he has routinely stoked interest in his appearances during the preseason but has never been called upon to perform when it really matters. As you are reading this, I’m sure the thought of any of these three coming into a game has your stomach in knots.
Maybe Gilbert blossoms with a full year in camp. I suppose it is DiNucci gets better or that Rush could parlay his preseason success into actual regular-season magic. I just would not bet on it.
The problem is that this late into the offseason, there are not a lot of other options. The only serviceable free agent left is former San Francisco signal-caller, Nick Mullens.
Even though his record as a starter has not been glowing, he has performed well at times. In ten games as a starter, he has three multi-touchdown games and three games with a quarterback rating above 95.0. In eight of the ten games, he’s completed 60% or better of his passes.
I absolutely believe the Dallas Cowboys should give Mullens’ agent a call to bring him into the backup competition. There is no doubt he would, at worst, push the other three candidates hard for a roster spot. Hopefully, Dak Prescott takes every snap for the Cowboys in 2021 but if he does not, the lack of a solid option behind him will almost certainly be the team’s undoing.