“When they called, it was a good fit right way,” Rush said in a phone interview. “We went with it pretty quickly. I kind of trusted my agent on that one. I felt good about it, and he felt real good about it. So we just went with it.”
The quarterback the Cowboys are replacing on their roster — Tony Romo — began his 14-year career as an undrafted free agent. Romo retired last month as the team’s all-time leading passer to pursuer a career in television.
Hall of Fame quarterbacks Warren Moon and Kurt Warner also went undrafted.
“You know that doing the free agent route is not the end of the world,” Rush said. “You look at Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, some guys who had really great careers who were also free agents. It’s really about what you do with the opportunity, whether you’re drafted high, low, free agent or make it through a rookie camp or whatever. Just worry about what you need to do when the opportunity comes. Once you’re out there, it’s football and what you can do on the field.”
The Cowboys had 10 undrafted free agents on their roster last season, including Romo, Barry Church, Jeff Heath and Ron Leary. Dallas lists four quarterbacks on its roster and only starter Dak Prescott was drafted. The Cowboys made him a fourth-round pick.
Backup quarterback Kellen Moore was an undrafted free agent in 2012, signing with the Detroit Lions. He arrived in Dallas as a free agent in 2015.
The Cowboys hoped to draft University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya in the seventh round as a developmental prospect. But the Lions took Kaaya in the sixth, so the Cowboys signed Rush and Florida quarterback Austin Appleby as undrafted free agents.
Rush and Appleby begin their competition this week at the Cowboys’ rookie minicamp in Frisco.
“That’s really what the league is about is competition,” Rush said. “There’s competition every day.”
Rush started four years, finishing his career second in Mid-American Conference history with 12,894 passing yards. That was only 12 yards short of the top spot. Rush’s experience appealed to the Cowboys as did his leadership, his intelligence, his maturity and his command of the huddle.
Rush played in a pro-style, under-center offense, putting him ahead of most college quarterbacks entering the NFL from spread offenses.
Rush’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, was the agent for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson when they played in the NFL. So Steinberg’s recommendation didn’t hurt. It also helped that Central Michigan coach John Bonamego, a longtime NFL assistant coach, is friendly with several Cowboys assistants.
“He’s an undrafted free agent, but on the other hand, they’re going to love how football-oriented his mind is, how analytical he is, how fast he’ll grasp the playbook, how mature he is under pressure,” said Steinberg, also the agent for Patrick Mahomes.
Rush, though, went undrafted because of questions about his arm strength and his bad habit of making off-balance throws.
“Rush is experienced in a pro-style, under-center offense and displays the leadership traits that will fit in a NFL locker room, but his mechanical movements and underwhelming arm talent limits his NFL ceiling,” CBS Sports analyst Dane Brugler wrote in his draft report. “His intangibles and intelligence might be enough to earn a roster spot as a No. 3.”
The Cowboys kept three quarterbacks on their roster last season with Prescott, Romo and Mark Sanchez. But they have a history under Garrett of using only two spots for quarterbacks on their 53-player roster, keeping a third on the practice squad.
“I want to be a guy who can come in and improve every day and compete and make that roster,” Rush said. “I want to put myself in good position and help the team in whatever way I can in that QB room.”