IRVING — The news of 41-year old quarterback Jon Kitna signing on to be the Dallas Cowboys’ third quarterback caught the NFL by surprise, both because of his age and that he hadn’t thrown a pass in an NFL setting since retiring in 2011.Coach Jason Garrett admitted the team didn’t have Kitna on its radar when they began looking for quarterbacks this week to make up for the possible loss of starter Tony Romo because of a back injury.Garrett even thought it was a joke when Kitna called and asked if he could help. Kitna served as the Cowboys’ backup quarterback the final three years of his 15-season career. “He actually reached out to us,” Garrett said. “My comment back was, ‘Are you serious?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ He was excited about it.”Kitna, a high school math teacher and football coach in his Tacoma, Wash., hometown, said, “Yes. That was the first question out of his mouth. I saw that Tony got hurt. Told Jason if he wants me or somebody to come in and call a play and be able to pull a play off if a bad situation happened, I would be willing to do that. So we had a good conversation.”Kitna admitted he had to convince Garrett about his willingness to do the job and his current fitness, which he characterized as just a few pounds over his playing weight, which was listed at 220 pounds.“He asked all of that,” Kitna said. “I said, ‘It’s not like I have been sitting around trying to stay in shape hoping I get another shot. My career is done.’ I was happy with that. I just knew the situation that they were in. I felt like I might be able to help in an emergency situation, just be able to help the functionality of running a play in the NFL. ... If he felt like it was worth a shot, I would be willing to do it.”The Cowboys needed a quarterback to run the scout team in practice this week and play if necessary. Kyle Orton was the only quarterback on the roster and will start if Romo can’t. The Cowboys worked out several quarterbacks Tuesday, including Tyler Thigpen, David Carr, John Skelton and Richard Bartel. They ended up going with Kitna because of his experience with the offense.Kitna’s high school team won its league title this season with his son as the starting quarterback. The son sent his dad to Dallas the day before Christmas with a message for Garrett.“He said for me to tell Jason, if he needs him to run the scout team, let him know,” Kitna said. Lee expected outThe Cowboys haven’t ruled middle linebacker Sean Lee out of Sunday’s game against the Eagles. But he hasn’t been cleared by doctors and is expected to miss a third straight game with a neck injury.If Lee doesn’t play, it will mark the second straight season he was sidelined for awin-or-go-home game for the NFC East title and a playoff berth.“It’s disappointing,” Lee said. “I haven’t been out there when it matters most.”Claiborne returnsThe Cowboys’ 31st-ranked pass defense will get a lift Sunday when cornerback Morris Claiborne returns after missing the past four games and six of the past seven with a hamstring injury.On Wednesday, Claiborne went through his first practice with the team in more than a month and declared himself good to go.Claiborne will likely return as the nickel cornerback, playing the outside when starter Orlando Scandrick moves to the slot on passing downs.
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr