Dallas Cowboys

June 10, 2014

Kyle Orton’s loss might be Brandon Weeden’s gain

Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Brandon Weeden is becoming a valuable pawn in the team’s off-season game.

Look for the great retirement impasse between the Dallas Cowboys and backup quarterback Kyle Orton to come to a head next week when the team holds its mandatory minicamp.

Orton, who has missed the off-season program and organized team activity workouts while contemplating retirement, is expected to show up to avoid paying a $70,000 fine.

In the meantime, former Oklahoma State star and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is making the most of his opportunity.

The Cowboys plan to see what kind of shape Orton is in before making their next move. The team has said it wants Orton back behind starter Tony Romo in 2014.

But if he is out of shape and has no chance of contributing, Dallas could cut him and move on.

It’s a high-stakes game of chicken Orton is playing with the team, as he would have to repay $3 million in signing bonus money if he retired. The Cowboys could cut him now, but if there is a chance to get some money back, they plan to do so.

The Cowboys are choosing to remain patient and let the process play out to prevent another Jay Ratliff situation, according to a source. The Cowboys cut a supposedly injured Raliff last season only to see him sign and play with the Chicago Bears a few weeks later.

That they can do that — especially with Romo limited and being held out of team workouts because of off-season back surgery — also is a testament to the progress of Weeden.

Initially signed as a developmental quarterback for the future, the former first-round bust with the Browns has been so impressive in organized team activities the past three weeks that the Cowboys are eying him as Romo’s primary backup next season.

“Certainly that is the whole part of the plan,” passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I thought he has done a great job from the start of our off-season program to now three weeks on the field.

“He has got a lot of really quality reps with the first group. He has really had his best week this week, and that’s what you want to see is a progression of him getting more comfortable with the offense. I have been really happy with him. He keeps progressing. He certainly got a great shot at it.”

Weeden, 30, has received all the snaps with the first-team offense the past three weeks. That has allowed him to regain confidence after some down times in Cleveland as well as earn the confidence of his new teammates and coaches.

“I’m striving for it,” Weeden said of the backup job. “But that’s not why I go out here every day. I go out here every day to get better and build on what I have done the last two years. It’s not about saying I’m going to be the backup. That takes care of itself. If you play well and you prove to guys around you and the coaching staff, things will fall into place. That’s my main focus.”

The 22nd overall pick of the Browns in 2012, Weeden was 5-15 as a starter in Cleveland. The Browns released him before making Johnny Manziel the 22nd overall pick this year, and Dallas quickly signed him to a two-year, $1.23 million deal with no signing bonus.

Things seem to be falling in place for Weeden in Dallas, especially with Orton in limbo.

While this is the third offense he has had to learn in three years in the NFL, it is one that he his somewhat familiar with because it is similar to what former Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner ran last year.

Coach Jason Garrett admits he has been “very impressed” with Weeden.

“Brandon has done a nice job,” Garrett said. “He has the ability to throw the football. He has the confidence and the poise about it.

“The biggest thing is he needs the opportunity to play and take snaps. He has picked things up very well mentally. You can see his ability to throw the football. He just needs to play more football.”

Weeden is certainly getting that chance during three weeks of OTAs and will again be at the helm with the first team when the Cowboys begin minicamp next week, no matter what happens with Orton.

Romo will still be on a pitch count, and Orton has yet to learn the new offense installed by Linehan during the off-season. He has yet to even receive a playbook.

“We don’t really send our playbook out or anything like that,” Linehan said. “There is enough carryover that it’s not going to be new for him from that standpoint.

“But you can’t replace the experience of doing it here in the building. I hope [Orton] is working through whatever he’s working through that it works out that he’s here for us. If he’s not, we’re planning on giving other guys an opportunity.”

Weeden is already taking full advantage.

Snap decision

Brandon Weeden is being groomed to be the primary backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Here are three reasons why:

1Kyle Orton is contemplating retirement, but would have to repay a $3 million bonus if he were to quit.

2If Orton reports out of shape, the Cowboys could cut him anyway as they grow comfortable with Weeden.

3And the most obvious reason: Tony Romo’s back. If he misses time, the team needs a steady hand.

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