Losing starting quarterback Dak Prescott to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 was devastating to the Cowboys. Losing backup QB Andy Dalton to a scary neck and head injury in Week 7 is a development of desperation for Dallas.
Dalton, after a rough game against Washington’s good pass-rushing defense behind his depleted offensive line, tried to wake up the Cowboys with a third-quarter run, down 22-3. Instead, when sliding feet first into the ground, he took a vicious, dirty helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Jon Bostic and suffered a bad concussion that could keep him out of action for a while.
So no Dak. No Dalton. What do the Cowboys do at quarterback? Seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci, who made his NFL debut mopping up in the Monday night loss to the Cardinals, completed only two passes for 39 yards in relief on Sunday, as Dallas essentially waved the white flag in the second half after Dalton went down.
The Cowboys, at 2-5, and trying to chase down the 2-4-1 Eagles in the weak NFC East — also Dallas’ opponent on the road on Sunday night in Week 8 — can’t think about rolling with DiNucci to save the season. Because the Cowboys are still in contention for the playoffs, despite their poor play, especially defensively, they need to consider a viable veteran replacement for Dalton who isn’t on their roster.
They need someone to plug in to Kellen Moore’s offense and help lead the team under struggling offensive-minded coach Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys still have two paths to get that more seasoned fill-in, either signing a street free agent or making a trade, with NFL deadline to do set for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Other than sticking with DiNucci and hoping he can become an unlikely supersub, let’s explore the Cowboys’ QB options in Week 8 and beyond:
Re-sign Cooper Rush
Let’s start with the easiest move for someone who played for Moore under Jason Garrett last season. Prescott’s former young top backup was with Garrett’s Giants on the practice squad, but he was released in late September. Rush is an experience upgrade over DiNucci and there would be little-to-no playbook transition. Jerry Jones liked the 2017 undrafted free agent, but they released Rush when they signed fellow redhead Dalton in May. Rush has some potential to operate well with his passing and running. He also would inject some teammate-friendly energy into a team that needs it.
Trade for Jacoby Brissett
The Colts can go back to believing in Philip Rivers as their starting quarterback again after his rallying play against the Bengals before the bye. And if they would make a switch at QB, given they signed Rivers as a bridge upgrade from Brissett, it should be taking a look a fourth-round rookie Jacob Eason. Brissett is a free agent in 2021, so the Colts won’t be keeping him beyond this season, anyway. Brissett has been in a good system under Frank Reich and could help the Cowboys with his arm and athleticism and good sense of getting all their weapons involved. He can also work well with Ezekiel Elliott in a run-heavier approach.
Trade for Tim Boyle
This is dipping into someoone who has performed well for McCarthy as a backup behind Aaron Rodgers. Just like Rush stuck with the Cowboys undrafted out of Central Michigan, Boyle did the same for the Packers out of Eastern Kentucky two years ago. Boyle has learned well behind Rodgers and improved under Matt LaFleur. He’s expendable for Green Bay, who could clear the way for first-rounder Jordan Love to get more needed developmental work. Boyle would be smart in spreading the ball around to the Cowboys’ talented receivers.
Trade for Ryan Fitzpatrick
Now we’re going from a decent upgrade from DiNucci to a lot more interesting. The Dolphins are in a bye and have decided to bench Fitzpatrick, who has been playing well in keying their 3-3 start, in favor of first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa. Fitzpatrick is doing well in an offense familiar to him under former Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey, but the 37-year-old has played and had short-term success in several different systems with his 8 teams in 16 seasons. He’s the ultimate quick study and plug-and-play into a situation like this. He tends to deliver when he has good skill players because he gets rid of the ball quickly and gets the ball into their hands to make big plays instead of forcing them downfield, when he gets into trouble.
Trade for Tyrod Taylor
Here’s the other veteran who has been benched for the rest of 2020 in favor of a rookie first-round QB and like Fitzpatrick, happens to be a pending free agent in 2021, too. Taylor is sitting behind Justin Herbert to end his Chargers career. Taylor’s once big arm is fading but his mobility, experience and leadership can make him a good fit to wake up the offense under Moore and McCarthy. Like Fitzpatrick, he would be a welcome presence in a locker room that desperately needs someone to bring the players better together.
Sign Colin Kaepernick
Unfortunately, we know this won’t happen, even though everything for Jones screams this is the exact time to make it happen. What’s there to lose? The NFL is supposed to be caught up to Kaepernick’s social justice initiative, right? Plus there are limited fans to alienate more at this point, if that’s even a thing anymore, with the Cowboys already looking awful. It’s almost like NFL owners (shhhh) are in cahoots in not wanting to crack and give Kaepernick the second, long overdue chance in the league he deserved. Jones has overlooked all kinds of real off-field issues to add and please players with contracts.
Kaepernick’s arm and athleticism can work well filling in for Moore with some coaching and time to settle into the system. That’s the rub; by not giving Kaepernick the chance a couple years ago, there’s now issues of rust and playing shape. Should Brissett, Fitzpatrick and Taylor not be available for the right compensation, Kaepernick, still only 32, is really the only other notable name worthy for the Cowboys. But because Jones won’t be maverick enough to make the move, there’s a better chance that Moore, 32, comes out of retirement to lead his own offense.