Brandon Weeden’s Emergence As Cowboys Backup QB Proves Jerry Jones Can’t Run From His Own Shadow
It is often a fine line which separates the bold from the foolhardy in professional football. Ever moving in accordance with the whims of the winds of the times, this line can appear to be indistinct for many NFL general managers and head coaches responsible for helping their team gain an edge on the competition.
Alternatives become clearer in camps that haven’t tasted the fresh air of postseason play in four years. Finding a new head coach in these situations has been proven to be a favorite move by front-office big-wigs over the years. Overhauling the roster is also another viable option in many locales, as is firing the GM.
If only options were that simple in Dallas.
In Cowboy country, progressive thought has trumped long-standing habits resulting in a political regime playing a game of smoke and mirrors with the public. Rather than make what many consider to be the obvious choice and move on from head coach Jason Garrett and his bewildered staff, owner and general manager Jerry Jones has chosen to promote the well-being of his crippled franchise with subtle under-the-radar resolutions.
In JerryWorld, youth trumps talent each and every day. No Demarcus Ware. No Jason Hatcher. No Sean Lee.
The Dallas coaching staff, re-assembled and re-shuffled for the third time in as many years, has that special ability, Jones insists, that can turn stop-gap players into productive football citizens, and is the main reason why the Cowboys are built to contend for a playoff berth in 2014.
Opportunities presented themselves to the Cowboy hierarchy during the off-season which promised long-term benefits, but Jones bypassed each and every one of them to enhance the quality and performance of this team.
Jerry, just like of old, is all in for the here and now, ready to sink or swim in the swirling, uncertain waters of the NFC East.
And Cow lovers are fine with that. We can’t really expect Jerry to change, can we?
And if you’re on board Jerry’s win-now bandwagon, it must be admitted that he acquitted himself rather well during the long off-season period. So well, in fact, that he would have arrived at training camp with nary a blemish on his scorecard if it weren’t for the bungling of the Kyle Orton affair on the back-nine.
Orton had been the backup to Tony Romo in Dallas for the past two seasons, but, as Cleveland has taught us over the past few months, all backup quarterbacks are not created equally. Whether you’re Brian Hoyer. Or Johnny Manziel.
Or, yes, even Brandon Weeden.
Consider the plight of the former Browns signal-caller on Thursday evening trying to make a touchdown out of circumstances that had field-goal finality written all over them.
Rolling to his right with 300-pound Charger defensive lineman Guy Lawrence hot in pursuit, Weeden’s red-zone initiation with the Dallas Cowboys appeared destined for failure. It was then, at the final second, that Weeden authored one of only a few highlights for the silver and blue out in San Diego, firing a bullet to James Hanna on the backline for a Dallas touchdown.
The impromptu connection between quarterback and tight end provided the Cowboys their first points of the preseason, and also provided fans with tangible reason to believe that Weeden is, in fact, a credible replacement to Orton. It was a fitting highlight for a crisp evening of play for Weeden, who completed 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards.
Moral of the evening: Weeden can play with the big boys. More than what many originally anticipated, though he has yet to reach the performance level of Orton.
Such has been the storyline throughout training camp. Weeden has looked good in practice, but lacks the pocket presence and overall accuracy which was an Orton trademark.
Which leads to the oft-asked question: Why did the Cowboys release Orton when they did?
Jerry Jones’ decision to part ways with Orton prior to training camp was not treated as a momentous occasion by the national media, but engendered more than a few head-shakings around Valley Ranch. The Cowboys paid big bucks for Orton’s services prior to the 2012 season because they wanted a sure-fire insurance policy behind Tony Romo. Orton, like Jon Kitna before him, would give Dallas the ability to score points and win games in the case of a Romo injury.
The likelihood of Romo’s back sidelining him again for an extended period in 2014 seems almost inevitable, considering his age and history. Romo, 34, is entering his twelfth season in the league, and has undergone back surgery twice in a twelve-month span. His back can hardly be considered one-hundred percent at this date, no matter what Cowboys officials tell you. Romo has missed several practice sessions out in Oxnard, has sat out the team’s preseason opener for the first time in his career, and still spends more than two hours daily doing rehab and receiving treatment just so he can practice.
There have been whispers around the Ranch which suggest that management took exception to Orton’s overt avoidance of the practice field this off-season. Orton missed the entire off-season training program, including the mandatory June min-camp, while dealing with what has been repeatedly referred to as a “family situation.” Jones, as he has done with cornerback Brandon Carr during training camp, promised to support his quarterback and give him as much time as needed.
Finally, after months of speculation that had Orton all but buried in retirement, the team’s patience was rewarded when the nine-year veteran showed up at the team’s Valley Ranch training facility over the July Fourth holiday.
What the Cowboys found was really everything they could have hoped for. Orton was in excellent physical condition, and assured quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson that he was ready to compete with Weeden for the No. 2 quarterback job.
But instead of game-on from there, the Cowboys issued the game-over statement to Orton, releasing him outright just a few days later. Jones insisted that the negligible salary cap room which the move provided the Cowboys was all the validation he needed to make such a bold decision.
It was certainly ironic to hear Jones say such a thing. This was the same Jones who has long believed that spending more is always better, yet now finds joy in fist-pumping over an unemployed quarterback and a few pennies saved.
Had Jones retained Orton’s services, the Cowboys would have had their best quarterbacking trio since Dallas’ miserable 6-10 campaign of 1997, when Troy Aikman, Wade Wilson, and Jason Garrett all saw playing time. Instead, Jones inexplicably bypassed a healthy competition between Orton and Weeden and singularly undermined a stable quarterbacking situation.
And despite Weeden’s strong showing out west against San Diego, the obvious truth still remains. The Cowboys believe they have a good chance to earn their first playoff berth since 2009. It’s hard to imagine how releasing Orton would help them reach that goal.