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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: March 1, 9:17 PM ET
Cowboys can't afford to ignore QBs

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Alex Smith is the epitome of a game manager at quarterback, a player known far more for his failings than successes in his first seven NFL seasons.

Still, Smith netted San Francisco a second-round pick this season and a conditional third-round pick next season when the 49ers traded him to Kansas City.

Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick
The 49ers were able to net a second- and third-round pick for Alex Smith, who lost his job to Colin Kaepernick.

It's just one more example of why the Cowboys need to change their dumb philosophy when it comes to acquiring quarterbacks.

We're talking about a team that's drafted just three quarterbacks -- Bill Musgrave (1991), Quincy Carter (2001) and Stephen McGee (2009) -- since Troy Aikman joined the franchise in 1989.

That's a joke. Especially in a league where quarterbacks reign.

The game is always about the quarterback, and it will always revolve around the game's most important position. To think anything else is naive, which is why the Cowboys should start acquiring a quarterback worthy of being on the roster every single season, starting with the draft in April.

At best, that quarterback becomes Tony Romo's eventual replacement so the franchise won't ever be held hostage again. Is anything worse than giving a player a long-term deal solely because no other viable option exists?

Romo is scheduled to count nearly $17 million against the club's salary cap. The Cowboys must restructure his deal to create salary-cap space so they can make at least a few changes to the roster.

Or the Cowboys could develop a quarterback, who will cost a pittance, which means valuable cap space won't be used by a player such as Kyle Orton.

At worst, that player becomes a valuable trade commodity, because quarterbacks command a hefty price in the NFL, regardless of whether they have a proven track record.

In 2011, Oakland traded a first-round pick in 2012 and a conditional second-round pick in 2013 for Carson Palmer, who had vowed to never play for Cincinnati again after the 2010 season.

You can call Hue Jackson crazy for doing the deal if you want, but he and Palmer had history together and Palmer was considerably better than his other options. Besides, no one wants his fate linked to Jason Campbell.

Houston gave up second-round picks in 2007 and 2008 when it acquired Matt Schaub. At the time, Schaub had an 0-2 record as a starter and had thrown 161 career passes.

Kevin Kolb, the Stephenville (Texas) High School graduate who attended Houston, cost Arizona Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in 2010. (FYI: DRC was the 16th player taken in the 2008 draft.)

Seattle was so desperate for a quarterback that it traded a third-rounder to San Diego in 2011 for backup Charlie Whitehurst, a slightly above-average player at Clemson and less than that in the NFL.

Now, do you understand why it makes sense for the Cowboys to draft a quarterback or sign a legitimate guy with long-term potential -- not just a camp body every year?

Remember, no one knew Romo was going to be a terrific player when he arrived in training camp in 2004.

Jerry Jones is forever trying to get something for nothing, which is why the Cowboys have signed high-profile free-agent quarterbacks such as Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson and Ryan Leaf over the years.

At one level that's fine, but there's one undrafted free-agent quarterback starting in the NFL -- and he plays for the Cowboys.

The odds of one organization finding another are less than zero. Only four current starting quarterbacks were acquired after the third round.

Teams must invest premium picks to get a legitimate starting quarterback -- and even that's no guarantee, if you consider the burgeoning careers of Minnesota's Christian Ponder, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert and Miami's Ryan Tannehill.

But the Cowboys can't even begin to think about their next starter at quarterback if they're not willing to use draft picks on the position. Hey, picking McGee in the fourth round was a good idea, it just didn't work out.

The only shame would be if the Cowboys let that bust affect their willingness to use another draft pick on a quarterback.

After all, if the Cowboys are going to shy away from every position where they've had draft busts, then they might as well just give all their draft picks away.