No sense in waiting on Kyle Orton

IRVING, Texas -- In a normal year, the Dallas Cowboys' backup quarterback wouldn't be that big a deal.

This isn't a normal year.

Tony Romo, the 34-year-old starting quarterback, has had an operation to remove a cyst from his back and another to repair a herniated disk in the past year.

So there's legitimate concern about Romo's ability to withstand the rigors of a 16-game season. All that really means is we're more inclined to see the backup quarterback this season than in seasons past.

And don't forget Jason Garrett is entering the final year of his contract after three consecutive 8-8 seasons without a playoff berth.

If ever a coach wanted to make sure he had his backup quarterback situation under control, just in case he needed that player to save his job, that should be Garrett.

But he's opted to forgo the safe route. Instead, he's banking on a dude who doesn't want to play.

That's right, Kyle Orton wants to hang up his cleats, presumably to spend more time with his wife and soon-to-be 3-year-old daughter.

Talk to enough folks at Valley Ranch, and it's clear Orton told the Cowboys he didn't want to play several months ago. His position hasn't changed.

The problem? Orton isn't interested in returning a prorated portion of the $5 million signing bonus he received -- about $3 million -- to sign with the Cowboys. If he doesn't play, the Cowboys want their money back.

Orton's response has been to skip all of the voluntary stuff this offseason. He'll probably show up next month for the mandatory offseason minicamp just to avoid being fined.

Maybe he'll show up for training camp and maybe he won't. Maybe he'll be in good shape when he arrives or maybe he won't be.

If the Cowboys cut him, then Orton doesn't have to return the money.

Now, do you understand why it's not smart for Garrett to rely on Orton? The game is too hard. And too physical. And too demanding to beg a guy to play.

Especially when the options behind Romo are Brandon Weeden, a first-round flop, and Caleb Hanie, a local dude who's the epitome of a journeyman.

Just so you know, there are three types of backup quarterbacks. Those who can win a game, those who can manage a game and those asked to not lose the game.

Orton, as we saw last season, is a guy capable of winning a game, which is why Garrett is being patient. Weeden can manage a game and Hanie would be asked to not lose the game.

If Orton were the least bit interested in being the backup quarterback, he'd be here at least to learn the offense, which is changing this offseason under new playcaller Scott Linehan.

He has reportedly changed about 35 percent of the offense but kept the terminology the same to ease the learning curve.

Still, this is new stuff and the quarterback needs to be here, although Linehan said Orton has received all of the new plays and terminology, which is pretty easy to do with today's technology.

Ask Garrett about his desire to wait on Orton and he'll mention Cole Beasley, who wanted to quit midway through his first NFL training camp.

"We had a situation a couple of years ago with Cole Beasley and he came into my office and said 'I don't want to play anymore,'" Garrett said. "We talked it through, we had a conversation and laid out some parameters and tried to help him through that situation because the track record of Cole Beasley in a short period of time spoke to us and spoke for itself.

"Sometimes, things happen in someone's life and they get offline a little bit and, sometimes, you have to help them get back online. A couple of days later, [Cole] came back and he's done a good job for us.

"You take each situation individually, and understand what the circumstances are and try to make the best decision for the football team -- first and foremost -- and for the player as well."

The circumstances seem completely different.

Beasley was an undrafted rookie free agent experiencing his first NFL training camp. It's understandable why he would doubt his ability to succeed as a pro.

Beasley didn't have a wife or kids, but he did have the potential of an NFL future ahead of him. It's easy to see why he returned.

Orton is a nine-year veteran, who's considerably closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

He's not particularly close to Romo, who declined to give Orton even the obligatory verbal pat on the back when asked about the veteran's absence Tuesday.

Orton has started 70 games in his career, and when he was a free agent and any team could have signed him, he joined the Cowboys as a backup. And when they needed him for the first time he delivered a strong performance, passing for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against Philadelphia in a win-and-get-in game.

But with the game and a playoff berth on the line he threw an interception late in the fourth quarter.

For now, that's our lasting memory of Orton in a Cowboys uniform, and it's unlikely to change.

All signs point to Weeden being the Cowboys' backup quarterback this season. Hopefully, Garrett won't need Weeden to win a game to save the coach's job.

If he does, he'll regret wasting time begging Orton to play.