Cowboys missing out on QB bargains

It's clear by Tony Romo's hefty contract extension that Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett value the position of quarterback. Were they willing to spend so much because they balk at drafting QBs? Getty Images

IRVING, Texas -- Quarterbacks are the NFL's most valuable currency, because teams that don't have a quality starter have zero chance to win in today's league.

A quarterback even with a history of only preseason and limited regular-season success can still command a treasure trove of draft picks.

Smart organizations draft quarterbacks frequently for two reasons: They can always trade them, and they provide cheap labor as backups.

The Dallas Cowboys take a different approach. They essentially ignore the league's most important position.

Since 1989, 301 quarterbacks have been drafted. The Cowboys have selected three -- Bill Musgrave in 1991, Quincy Carter in 2001 and Stephen McGee in 2009.

No franchise has drafted fewer.

More than half of the league's teams (17) have drafted at least 10 quarterbacks since then. Green Bay has drafted a league-high 14 quarterbacks, and more than once the Packers have flipped those players for draft picks.

It's a simple strategy that requires minimal effort but considerable foresight. The best organizations don't just focus on today; they think about tomorrow, because teams are always desperate for quarterbacks.

The Washington Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick for the right to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012. Kansas City dealt a second-round pick in 2013 and a conditional second-round in 2014 for Alex Smith, who was never more than just a guy before Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2011.

Last month, the New York Giants saw Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, considered by most a second-round pick, and decided he had too much value to leave on the board.

The Philadelphia Eagles did the same when they saw Matt Barkley still available at the start of the fourth round. Although the Eagles have Mike Vick and Nick Foles, a third-round pick in 2012 on the roster, new coach Chip Kelly couldn't bypass Barkley's value.

It's really not that hard.

We all know Eli Manning is the Giants' quarterback for the foreseeable future, but now they have the option of making Nassib a low-salaried backup for the next four years. Or they can give him a red-shirt year and make him the clipboard holder for a year.

But if Nassib plays to his potential -- even if it's just in the preseason -- then the Giants will trade him to some desperate team for considerably more than their fourth-round investment.

Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones will tell you how much they value the position of quarterback. They'll tell you about the resources they've used on the position, while pointing to Tony Romo's six-year, $108 million extension as the biggest example of its importance.

Then they'll talk about backup quarterback Kyle Orton's $3 million salary-cap figure as one more example of how much money they've spent on the position.


They've spent so much money on the position because they've refused to develop the spot behind center.

Since Garrett joined the staff in 2007, 82 quarterbacks have been drafted by NFL teams. The Cowboys have selected one.

Really, it's old-school thinking.

The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement created a rookie wage scale that takes away the risk of drafting a quarterback in the first couple of rounds, signing him to a huge contract and then hoping he can play.

Now, you get a chance to develop them on the cheap.

Frankly, that should appeal to Jerry, because he loves nothing better than getting a quarterback without sacrificing a draft pick. That's why we saw players such as Anthony Wright, Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson and Clint Stoerner start games for the Cowboys between 2000 and 2003.

Then Bill Parcells arrived and signed free-agent quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe until Romo, an undrafted free agent, took over during the sixth game of the 2006 season.

The cheap route usually doesn't work when the topic is NFL quarterbacks.

When the 2013 season begins, Romo, New England's Tom Brady and Oakland's Matt Flynn will be the only starting quarterbacks selected after the third round. Romo is the only undrafted free agent. Brady was a sixth-round pick and Flynn was a seventh-round selection.

Twenty-seven of 32 starters were taken in the first two rounds, including 24 in the first round.

Romo is 33, and Kyle Orton is entering the second year of a three-year deal. It's really not too early to start thinking about a backup to replace Orton and a player eventually capable of taking over for Romo.

Drafting McGee was a good idea that didn't work out. It doesn't mean the Cowboys have to be shy about drafting another quarterback.

Bringing undrafted free agents to training camp and putting them on the practice squad is like trying to hit the lotto twice. Former linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson is the only person I know who has done that.

Expecting to find another Romo is folly. The sooner Jerry and Garrett admit that, the better.