Last season, Dalton went 4-5 in nine starts as Dak Prescott's replacement and will sign a one-year deal worth up to $13 million with the Chicago Bears with at least the chance to be their No. 1 quarterback.
So what will the Cowboys do for their No. 2 quarterback now?
Dallas has Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci under contract behind Prescott, who signed a four-year, $160 million deal last week. Gilbert played well in his one start -- the first of his career -- last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 21 of 38 passes for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception. DiNucci, a seventh-round pick a year ago, did not play well in his one start in 2020 against the Philadelphia Eagles, completing 21 of 40 passes for 180 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Rush was signed after DiNucci's struggles in Week 8, but did not see action.
With Prescott expected to be 100% healed from the dislocated and compound fracture of his right ankle he suffered in Week 5 last season, the Cowboys could take their chances with inexperienced backups. They did it with Rush waiting in the wings behind Prescott from 2017 to 2019.
The Cowboys would have liked to have kept Dalton, but knew he would jump at the chance to start again.
If Dallas wants to look at adding veteran help, there are a few options.
The Cowboys could consider Colt McCoy (a free agent who spent the 2020 season with the New York Giants), who has been linked to the Cowboys as a potential backup before. If Chase Daniel is released by the Detroit Lions, which is expected if Detroit cannot find a trade partner, he could be an option to return home, having played at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High School.
Alex Smith beat the Cowboys last Thanksgiving, 41-16, completing 19 of 26 passes for 149 yards with a touchdown and an interception and largely kept things together for the Washington Football Team on its way to a playoff run. Smith earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors after his return from a gruesome ankle injury in 2018. Smith's comeback has served as inspiration for Prescott in his own return from injury. And in 2005, coach Mike McCarthy was the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator when Smith was the No. 1 overall pick.
The 49ers will not tender an offer to restricted free agent Nick Mullens, which puts him on the open market. He has a 5-11 record in three seasons with 25 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. In a 41-33 loss to the Cowboys last December, he completed 21 of 36 passes for 219 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Years ago, the Cowboys searched for veteran backups when Tony Romo was healthy (Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Kyle Orton) and opted for the inexperienced backup after Romo began having back issues.
Dalton may have been the Cowboys' top choice behind Prescott, but they still have options if they don't want to go with Gilbert, Rush or DiNucci.