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The Cowboys need to draft a quarterback -- just not at No. 4

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Should the Cowboys draft Henry with fourth pick? (1:54)

Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith share their thoughts on whether the Cowboys should draft Alabama RB Derrick Henry with the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft. (1:54)

IRVING, Texas -- This is not the time for the Dallas Cowboys' quartet of decision-makers to overreact to a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations and ended with embarrassment.

Owner Jerry Jones, vice president Stephen Jones, coach Jason Garrett and scouting director Will McClay must understand they don't have to take a quarterback with the fourth pick of the first round of the 2016 NFL draft.

Seriously.

Life as we know it won’t end if the Cowboys pass on a quarterback in the first round. Dallas' top priority in the first round must be drafting the best player available, a guy who will play a significant role on its team, whether that's next season or a couple of seasons from now.

The quickest way for the Cowboys to screw up the draft is to select a quarterback who’s not worthy of the fourth pick just because Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore combined for a 1-11 record as starters with 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

We've all seen teams reach for quarterbacks over the years -- Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder come to mind -- because they needed one, they were picking high in the draft and they felt compelled to take a chance.

That’s a scenario the Cowboys must avoid. You figure Cleveland is going to take the best available quarterback with the second pick, based on what we know today, because Tennessee picks first and doesn't need a quarterback after taking Marcus Mariota in 2014 .

Hue Jackson, hired as head coach by the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday, has reportedly told the Brown's front office that he has zero interest in having quarterback Johnny Manziel on the roster. Jackson, an innovative offensive coach, will need a quarterback.

San Diego, picking third, could have the same thought process as Dallas and covet a quarterback to eventually replace Philip Rivers, though the 34-year-old hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Romo, who turns 36 in April, over the past few seasons.

The NFL scouting combine is next month, and colleges will have their pro days in March and April, but it’s fair to assume, for now, that California's Jared Goff, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Michigan State’s Connor Cook will be the top four quarterbacks in some way, shape or form.

Don't be shocked if the Cowboys pass on a quarterback in the first round. There is talent in the second and third rounds.

The Cowboys will be drafting at the top of the second round, where quality quarterbacks such as Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Oakland’s Derek Carr and New Orleans’ Drew Brees were drafted. Perhaps they could get Cook or Mississippi State's Dak Prescott in the second round. Maybe they could take Ohio State's Cardale Jones in the third round.

The uncertainty involving Romo’s availability is real, which is why the Cowboys need a legitimate backup, whether they use a premium draft pick or sign the best available free agent no matter the cost, as they did with Kyle Orton a few years ago.

Romo is a terrific player, easily one of NFL’s top 10 quarterbacks, but the Cowboys can’t count on his health anymore. He had two back surgeries in 2013, and he missed 12 games and parts of two others with broken collarbones this season.

Romo has played 16 games twice since 2009 -- hence the thirst for a replacement. And it feels more urgent here because of the Cowboys’ reluctance to draft quarterbacks.

Since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989, the Cowboys have drafted just five quarterbacks. No team has drafted fewer -- not even franchises such as Jacksonville and Carolina, which joined the NFL in 1995, or an expansion team such as the Houston Texans, who started playing in 2002.

In that span, 22 teams have drafted at least 10 quarterbacks, including Green Bay, which has taken 17. Reality says the Cowboys will have to take a quarterback with a premium draft pick to get Romo’s eventual successor.

After all, 26 of the league’s 32 starting quarterbacks this season were taken in the first three rounds, including 21 in the first. And of the 31 different quarterbacks to play in the Super Bowl since in 1989, 22 have been taken in the first three rounds, including 14 in the first.

None of that means the Cowboys need to force the issue. They haven’t taken a quarterback in the first round since using a 1989 supplemental pick on Steve Walsh.

Getting the right quarterback is a lot more important than drafting one in the first round.