A year ago, the Dallas Cowboys signed backup quarterback Kyle Orton to a three-year, $10.5 million deal, with $5 million to sign. They hope it is money for nothing.
Tony Romo has started all 16 games each of the past two seasons.
Orton’s only action last season came in mop-up duty against the team that drafted him. He completed nine of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears, who used a fourth-round pick on the Purdue product in 2005.
It marked the first season since 2006 that Orton didn’t start a game.
Orton is comfortable in his role, and the Cowboys take comfort in having Orton as their backup.
“He’s played a lot of good football for us — both in practice, preseason games and when he had a chance to play last year — and we have a lot of confidence in him,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Orton’s job as the No. 2 quarterback is secure despite his struggles Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals. He completed four of eight passes for 36 yards with two interceptions and a 22.9 passer rating in three offensive series during the 12-7 loss to Arizona.
“It’s frustrating,” Orton said. “I had a good camp going. I was feeling good. I felt did a lot of good things this camp. Obviously, you don’t want to go out there and turn the ball over a couple of times, especially the way the game started off. As a veteran, I’ve got to take care of the football and take care of my reads.
“Any time you don’t play well, you will be disappointed. But I felt I’ve done a lot of good things this camp. Just put that one behind and go out to play well next week.”
On his second pass attempt, Orton tried to force a tight throw in to tight end James Hanna, and Jerraud Powers picked it off. Later in the second quarter, Orton was late on a throw down the middle to Dwayne Harris, and safety Tony Jefferson stepped in front.
“He’s a guy that sees the field really well, understands the game really well,” Garrett said of Orton. “On those particular plays, he was fooled a little bit. … It’s a great lesson for everybody, regardless of how long you’ve played, you’ve got to do things the right way at that position. The ball is really, really important, and that certainly contributed to us not winning the ball game.”
In three preseason games, Orton is 12-for-17 for 113 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Alex Tanney created excitement in Cowboys Nation with his performance last week when he completed 14 of 19 passes for 136 yards with a touchdown and an interception for an 88.9 passer rating.
But Garrett always has carried a veteran behind Romo, with Brad Johnson, then Jon Kitna and now Orton. The Cowboys are 6-7 without Romo since he became the full-time starter in 2007, including 5-5 in 2010.
The Cowboys see Orton as insurance, considering he has made 69 starts for the Bears, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, going 35-34.
“We feel good about our starting quarterback. We feel good about our backup quarterback,” Garrett said.
Orton, 30, took valuable reps during the off-season when Romo was sitting out after having back surgery to remove a cyst. But with Romo back and the regular season fast approaching, Orton’s time under center ends soon.
The Cowboys host the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday, with the starters expected to play most of the game, before closing out the preseason against Houston on Aug. 29.
“My reps will be cut a lot here in a couple of weeks, so I need to take advantage of all these I get,” Orton said, “...and make sure my game is right where I need it to be so if I get on the field [in the regular season], I’ll be ready to go.”