Commentary

Kyle Orton a big improvement

Tony Romo's backup appears to be a perfect fit for the Dallas Cowboys

Updated: June 18, 2012, 1:02 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- It's hard to find the right backup quarterback.

The Dallas Cowboys thought they had a good one a few years ago in Brad Johnson, but he didn't have the arm strength or mobility necessary to help the team win if Tony Romo went down.

Jon Kitna was next, and he was serviceable and well-respected in the locker room by veteran players. But age and injuries forced Kitna to retire following the 2011 season.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
AP Photo/James D SmithKyle Orton has a much better skill set than the Cowboys' two previous backups, Jon Kitna and Brad Johnson.

Enter Kyle Orton.

He seems the perfect fit for the Cowboys to back up Romo and help Stephen McGee make the next step in his development.

If there's anyone who can deal with the scrutiny of being a starter in this league, it's Orton.

The Cowboys don't have to worry about Orton's ego. It's in check. He knows this is Romo's show.

"Hey, Tony is the man, there ain't no doubt about it," Orton said. "He's played great football. He's a great quarterback, so I'm excited. It's really the first time I've been around another veteran in my career. I've had a lot of learning with young guys in the [quarterback] room and I can still learn a lot about football."

Orton began last season as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos but was replaced by Tim Tebow after a 1-4 start. Orton was released by the Broncos in November, and although the Cowboys placed a waiver claim on him, he went to Kansas City.

After Orton's departure, the Broncos excelled, reaching the playoffs and knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers. But in an odd twist, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets after the season and Peyton Manning is the new starter in Denver.

In the offseason, Orton was hoping the Cowboys would make him an offer because he respected the organization and wanted to be with a contender.

In March, Orton signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus with Dallas.

"I thought a lot about it," Orton said. "It was definitely the right situation for me at this point of my career."

And Orton did his research. He spoke with Kitna about playing in Dallas, and on his visit to Valley Ranch during free agency he was able to gain more knowledge about the franchise and what it wanted.

So just what are the Cowboys getting with Orton?

He's 35-34 as a starter and at 29, Orton can stick around a while and most likely get another contract with the Cowboys. He's already developed a good relationship with Romo and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who also worked with him in Chicago.

Orton's skill set is much better than the two previous backups. He's got a strong arm and, while he's not as mobile as Romo, moves better than Kitna and Johnson.

Questions have been raised about Jerry Jones making final decisions from the front office, but Orton might be the best offseason move the Cowboys made.

Orton might not play much, but when he does, he could give the Cowboys some comfort that they just might be all right.

Before signing Orton, Jones said he didn't want to draft a quarterback and would rather sign a veteran who could play immediately if Romo went down with an injury.

That's what the Cowboys have with Orton.

"My hope right now is to win a Super Bowl with this team," Orton said. "I think anytime you start the year, that's your goal and the only thing I'm going to do is concentrate on working hard and fulfill my role any way I can."

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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