Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made it a point to say hi and briefly chat with Carson Wentz after the North team’s practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Wentz, the North Dakota State product, is widely considered the best quarterback prospect at the Senior Bowl, and could end up being the top quarterback taken in this year’s draft.
It’s no secret that the Cowboys are looking to improve the quarterback position, and could use the fourth overall pick to do so. The Cowboys used three backup quarterbacks last season with Tony Romo injured, and they combined to go 1-11.
But Jones made it clear that drafting a quarterback is not a requirement, although the team seems to be spending more time evaluating quarterbacks than they have in recent years.
“No, not at all,” Jones said of the notion they must draft a quarterback. “This [high draft pick] gives us a good opportunity.”
Jones said last year’s struggles were a result of not having a suitable backup quarterback and the team is determined to improve in that area, but he said the Cowboys don’t have to use their high draft pick on the position.
Asked to further explain why the Cowboys don’t have to draft a quarterback, Jones said: “Well, there are many options. There’s free agency. …
Romo’s health, however, remains a concern. This is a quarterback who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2012 and is expected to undergo off-season surgery to have a plate inserted to strengthen his left collarbone.
That is why the Cowboys are spending a lot of time dissecting the quarterback market this off-season.
As Jones said, there are other avenues outside of the draft that the Cowboys can explore in upgrading the position. The free-agent market could include reclamation projects such as Robert Griffin III or Johnny Manziel, or they could seek a more qualified veteran.
Jones would not discuss the free-agent market and whether that could be a better route, which would allow the Cowboys to use the fourth overall pick on an impact player who can help Romo and the Cowboys win now rather than later.
“I don’t have any comment there because you well know they [the possible free agents] are on another roster and I can’t do that,” Jones said.
The draft prospects, however, are fair game to discuss and it would give the Cowboys an opportunity to develop a quarterback of their own. But the Cowboys don’t have a history of drafting quarterbacks.
Since using the No. 1 overall pick in 1989 on Troy Aikman, the Cowboys have drafted only four QBs — Steve Walsh (1989), Bill Musgrave (1991), Quincy Carter (2001) and Stephen McGee (2009).
But this year is different and the Cowboys saw how difficult it is to win without a dependable backup. And they have the bonus of seeing one of the top prospects, Wentz, work and operate firsthand.
There is no consensus on who the top quarterback in the class is, but Wentz hasn’t done anything to hurt his stock this week.
“Carson Wentz was the belle of the ball coming into the week and so far he’s lived up to it,” said Dane Brugler, a draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com and CBS Sports.
“He’s pressed a little bit, he’s not immune to all the hype, he’s heard it. But at the same time I think he’s been able to adjust and play within himself, and he’s impressed some people, that’s for sure.
“If you need a quarterback and you’re picking in the top 10, you’re absolutely going to do your due diligence on Carson Wentz and figure out whether or not you’re willing to take him that high.”
The Cowboys will study and evaluate all of the quarterbacks thoroughly in this year’s class.
Jones has the final say, of course.
“I think the time that a quarterback is learning or the time that he’s being exposed to let’s say another accomplished quarterback in our case, I think you could gain a tremendous amount,” Jones said.
“You also have the opportunity to develop and ease into the situation rather than the crash course of putting him out there [immediately]. Troy [Aikman] was the exception. He got sacked 11 times in one game [against Philadelphia as a rookie].
“A lesser, more fragile psyche it might have done some damage over the long term. In that case, he showed how tough he was mentally.”