With the news that Dak Prescott is expected to be out multiple weeks with a fractured thumb on his throwing hand, the Dallas Cowboys now are in scramble mode.
The team didn't even technically have a backup quarterback on the roster until Cooper Rush's late-week elevation to the 53-man roster. Rush ended up replacing Prescott for the final five minutes of the Cowboys' 19-3 Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Prescott struggled, as did Rush, behind a patchwork Dallas offensive line. That's also going to be the challenge for whomever the Cowboys tab to take over while their franchise QB remains out.
Here are some names to consider for possible replacements, presented from most to least likely:
The obvious, if uninspired choice, is to keep Rush in the starting role, which wouldn’t require any roster moves (even if the Cowboys would need to promote a backup). He was 7-of-13 passing for 64 yards as Prescott’s late replacement Sunday, which wasn’t bad considering the pressure the Bucs sent at him. Rush also was sacked twice on his 15 dropbacks.
Last season, Rush came up big in place of Prescott, who was scrubbed in Week 8 with a calf injury, in his first NFL start. The Cowboys trailed the Vikings for most of that game, until Rush led an eight-play, 75-yard drive in the final minute -- sealed with a game-winning TD pass to Amari Cooper -- to give Dallas the road win.
“I was glad everybody got to see that, because that's Cooper Rush,” head coach Mike McCarthy said at the time. “He plays the quarterback position like a seasoned veteran.”
Assuming McCarthy feels the same now, it makes sense that the fifth-year pro might get a second, longer chance to be a savior off the bench.
During the preseason, Grier and Rush were neck and neck vying for QB2 honors behind Prescott. And Grier had slightly better passing efficiency -- completing 56.3 percent of his passes (to Rush’s 54.8%), averaging 5.8 yards per pass attempt (to Rush’s 4.4) and compiling a 2:0 TD-INT ratio (to Rush’s 0:1 ratio).
McCarthy seemed impressed with Grier’s performance against the Chargers this preseason, despite Grier, who's currently on Dallas' practice squad, missing time leading up to the game with a pulled groin.
“I’ll tell you, man, what a gritty performance,” McCarthy said last month. “I thought [Grier] did great. Just a gritty performance. It was good to see him in command and running the offense. It was his first real opportunity in this offense, and I thought he did a really nice job.”
Earlier in training camp, McCarthy said Grier had “clearly” taken a step forward. But Grier absolutely needed to do so, at least considering his other brief appearances in the regular season. A former third-round pick (No. 100 overall) by the Carolina Panthers in 2019, Grier saw two late-season starts as a rookie -- and struggled badly in both.
Grier completed 27 of 44 passes for 224 yards against the Colts in Week 15 that year, but he also threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. Grier then started the following week against the Saints but completed only 1 of 8 passes for 4 yards, lost a fumble and threw an interception before leaving the game with a foot injury.
To date, those are Grier’s only two regular-season showings. He is the most likely candidate -- at least initially -- to elevate to the roster in Prescott’s stead. Grier had some moments in college at Florida and West Virginia, exhibiting a freewheeling, playmaking bent. This could be a chance to get back in the league and rewrite his NFL script a bit.
The ultimate mercenary QB, Johnson has suited up for a record 14 different teams, also spending time in the UFL, AAF and XFL. The dude just keeps his phone on at all times and awaits calls from desperate franchises.
Johnson also delivers. In four games (one start) last season for the Jets and Ravens, he completed a combined 57 of 85 passes (67.1%) for 638 yards, five TDs and two interceptions, taking only three sacks in that span. That, plus his ability to pick up a first down or two with his legs, could be attractive for the Cowboys, who are shorthanded in the blocking department. Johnson was in camp with the Broncos and played well, but was beat out by Brett Rypien for the backup role and is now on Denver's practice squad. The Cowboys surely got a good look at Johnson during joint practices and in their preseason matchup, during which he completed 16 of 23 passes for 172 yards and two scores.
Could Dallas become Johnson's 15th NFL squad? We won’t rule it out. He’s a pro’s pro who has proven he can step in at a moment's notice.
The Cowboys’ fourth QB in camp, DiNucci technically outplayed both Rush and Grier in the preseason -- with the major caveat being that most of his reps came against deep reserves.
Still, DiNucci figures to be back on Dallas’ radar as a possible short-term insurance policy. He was cut at the end of camp but could easily take Grier’s spot on the practice squad and be on ready-alert if needed.
A seventh-round pick by Dallas out of James Madison in 2020, DiNucci ended up getting thrown into the fire that year as a rookie following Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury and then-backup Andy Dalton’s concussion. In a tough game at Philadelphia, DiNucci was sacked four times and lost two fumbles in a 23-9 loss, completing 21 of 40 passes for 180 yards.
But DiNucci doesn’t figure to get owner Jerry Jones all hot and bothered as a partial solution to replacing Dak. After all, Jones didn’t seem too impressed with DiNucci’s one start that year. “It was frankly more than he could handle,” Jones told 105.3 The Fan after that game. Ouch.
Yes, we know what you’re thinking: fat chance. After all, the 49ers re-worked Garoppolo's contract, raved about having one of the best backups in the league and just saw Trey Lance struggle at times in a Week 1 loss to the Bears.
It’s probably still a long shot to see the Cowboys give up major assets for Garoppolo, depending on the severity of Prescott’s injury and his timetable for return. But Jones’ level of desperation can’t be overlooked -- and the owner might not be able to resist green-lighting a splashy move.
Still, as tempting as trading for Garoppolo might be as a short-term solution, it could be asking a lot for him to arrive, absorb an offensive playbook and contribute in some meaningful fashion before Prescott is back ready to go. Plus, Garoppolo is a free-agent-to-be in the spring, and will likely be seeking a starting job elsewhere. How much capital would the Cowboys part with in exchange for a few starts?
They have $11 million in salary-cap space, so the move is feasible. But is it likely? We view this one as an extreme long shot. But with Dallas, you can never rule such things out.
We file this possibility in a similar fashion to the Garoppolo one. While Minshew might be more of a viable long-term backup possibility for Prescott than Garoppolo, the Cowboys would have to make a deal with a division rival -- and you just know Eagles GM Howie Roseman would try to hold the Cowboys’ feet to the fire on a trade.
When the Patriots needed reinforcements at QB in 2020 after Tom Brady left, they tabbed Newton in June of that year. When the Panthers were short on QB options last season, they brought Newton back to the team -- and he at least delivered a few moments.
So Newton certainly is used to coming from nowhere to at least contribute in recent seasons. But would this be a good fit? It’s hard to say.
It’s possible that Dallas could sign a player such as Newton and build a package of plays for him as a change-up option to either Rush or some other middling alternative. Over his past 23 games (20 starts), Newton at least has provided a quality scrambling option, running for 822 yards and 17 TDs on 184 attempts.
But he’s also struggled as a passer since his career-changing injury in 2018, throwing for more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (12), struggling with consistent accuracy and averaging a mere 6.7 yards per attempt over the past three seasons.
The flip side is that he likely would come cheap, and the team could move on at any point without much hindrance.
Fitzpatrick announced his retirement in June. But would anyone be stunned if the Cowboys put in a call -- and if Fitzmagic answered gleefully?
He too has donned many jerseys over his 17 NFL seasons, starting for a record nine different teams, while throwing and rushing for touchdowns with eight of them. Fitzpatrick seemed to understand his role in his later years, although at the time of his benching by the Dolphins in 2020, there were some who felt he remained the better quarterback over Tua Tagovailoa, who took his spot that season.
Fitzpatrick turns 40 during Thanksgiving week. While he's still involved in the pro game, as a part of Prime Video's Thursday Night Football broadcast coverage, he might be completely at peace with his decision to hang 'em up. But if there’s ever someone who could hop off the couch (or out of the analyst chair) to throw a sidewinding, no-look bomb for a touchdown, it’s probably the bearded wonder. What a story that would be if it came to pass.