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Cowboys Quarterback Targets in the 2021 NFL Draft

It’s tough to save the most important position on the football field for last in a series like this. Still, the Cowboys and Dak Prescott made it much easier to wait on this one by agreeing to an extension in March. However, the Cowboys may still try to find a different backup quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Dak is Back!

Imagine the kind of craziness that would be going on in Dallas had the two sides still been at odds on an extension. Much to everybody’s delight, I don’t have to mention the top signal-callers in this class.

Injuries to Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, as well as frustration on our defense, fueled the early narrative to what was going wrong with America’s Team. However, the Cowboys season took a permanent turn for disappointment when Prescott broke his leg against the Giants.

Dalton’s Tenure in Dallas

After the Dak Prescott injury, Andy Dalton stepped in and played at a reasonable, yet uninspiring rate. He may not have uplifted Dallas like some would have hoped, considering his experience.

Still, there were far worse backup quarterback scenarios in the NFL. Seventh-round pick Ben DeNucci’s one start was certainly evidence that Dalton’s performance was a step ahead of the next-best option on the roster.

Garrett Gilbert’s lone start was far more palatable, leaving some in Dallas to believe the soon-to-be 30-year old has a strong shot at making this roster in 2021. Overall, it was a roller-coaster season at the quarterback position, but not exactly implausible for a team that lost their starter in week five.

dak prescott cowboys quarterback
Credit: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

Which Cowboys Quarterbacks Are Returning?

No player on the roster will inspire more confidence upon returning in 2021 than the Cowboys’ franchise signal-caller. The Cowboys and Prescott were able to agree on a four-year, $160M deal that compensates Dallas’ unquestioned leader handsomely.

Dak Prescott Contract

Still, also give the team a little flexibility as they navigate a tricky cap situation over the next two years. That became Prescott’s biggest bargaining chip after the effects of the pandemic on the NFL’s financial landscape.

He was willing to backload the deal. This keeps Dallas from having to make drastic moves over the next two seasons to get under what’s expected to be a much lower cap than was projected pre-COVID-19.

His return will instantly return the Cowboys to the upper-echelon of passing attacks in the NFL. It will see the most influential player in Dallas’ locker room return after a 2020 campaign in which the team severely missed the leadership of guys like Prescott, Jason Witten, and Travis Frederick.

Don’t Forget Us

Also returning are DeNucci and Gilbert. A year in the offseason program, as well as the return of preseason games, should benefit the pair and paint a better picture of what Dallas can expect from them.

Cooper Rush is also under contract for another year and gives them someone who has played for or with Kellen Moore for four years now.

Which Cowboys Quarterbacks Aren’t Returning?

Dalton to Bears

As I said, Dalton played at a reasonable enough rate in Prescott’s place. The proof of that was when Chicago signed him with the intent of letting him compete for the starting job.

How serious they are about that stance is debatable, but it was convincing enough to lure Dalton away from returning to Dallas. With him gone, the Cowboys now have only two career starts at the position behind Prescott on the depth chart.

What Do Cowboys Need at Quarterback?

Can’t Find NFL Experience in the Draft

The primary answer to this won’t be answered in the draft. With Dalton leaving for the Windy Cindy, Dallas needs some experience behind Prescott, and that’s obviously not something amateur quarterbacks offer.

Right now, it would appear Gilbert is the leading candidate to back up Prescott. Still, it never hurts to add competition to the position, and I could see Dallas doing just that on day three.

McCarthy’s Quarterback Draft History

In Mike McCarthy’s first 10 years as the head coach in Green Bay, the Packers drafted five quarterbacks, and Aaron Rodgers was on the roster for all 10. So, he has no problem bringing in new developmental options to his quarterback room.

No one will fill the experiences shoes that Dalton leaves behind, but they could push to be the third quarterback on this roster.

sam ehlinger cowboys quarterback 2021 nfl draft targets
Credit: Houston Chronicle

Cowboys Draft Targets at Quarterback

It is interesting to consider what kind of quarterback Dallas might consider on day three. Do they want someone with a similar skillset to Prescott?

Could they want someone that is considered a project with the upside to be a future backup or trade chip? Are they more interested in someone that can give this team a good look on the scout team every week?

Ehlinger has a Some Dak to him

There are options that can be answers to each of these questions in this class. If they are looking for a prospect with a similar skillset to Prescott, I’m intrigued by Texas’ Sam Ehlinger. He’s got a physical build with good mobility and good-not-great arm strength.

Ehlinger is also lauded for his work ethic, which bodes well for what he can bring to the practice squad while also still developing into a more significant role down the line. He certainly could be an option late in round five or later.

High-Upside Projects

Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman and Arkansas’ Felipe Franks certainly fit the bill if they are looking for high-upside projects. Both have plenty of potential thanks to their mobility and arm strength but have a lot of areas to improve as they enter the NFL.

Other Day-Three Options

A few options that could bring value to the scout team are Notre Dame’s Ian Book and SMU’s Shane Buechele. Book is one of the fiercest competitors in this class, and it’s hard not to root for a guy like that.

Buechele has played in various schemes while being regarded as a quick study that improved as a decision-maker once he transferred to SMU. For all the Kellen Mond fans, it’s a stretch, to say the least, to see him slipping to day three, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past Dallas to consider him if that happened.

Cowboys Draft Needs

Tier 1

Tier 2

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