IRVING, Texas – The standoff between Kyle Orton and the Dallas Cowboys is over. And from the looks of things, Orton is getting what he wanted all along.
The Dallas Cowboys officially cut the backup quarterback in a move that was made official today (Wednesday).
Orton did not participate in any of the Cowboys’ offseason practices or workouts, missing all of the OTAs and minicamp sessions. Although Orton has not made public comments this offseason, it has been believed he has hinted at retirement.
However, if he retired under contract, he could be required to pay back $3 million to the Dallas Cowboys from his signing bonus. Now that Orton was waived, he instead adds to the club’s dead money total. By cutting him the Cowboys won’t pay his $3.25 million base salary. The cap savings of about $1 million this year will be helpful considering they are looking to sign both Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant to long-term contracts.
Seemingly as important, this move means Brandon Weeden is the top candidate to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Tony Romo. A first-round pick of the Browns in 2012, Weeden took nearly all of the first-team snaps this summer with Orton sitting out and Romo still cautiously rehabbing a herniated disk injury in his back that required surgery last December.
The procedure forced Romo to miss the Week 17 showdown against the Eagles, giving Orton his first and only start for the Cowboys. While Orton played well at times in the game – passing for 358 yards and two touchdowns – his last two passes proved costly. First, he poorly underthrew Dez Bryant in the end zone for what would’ve been a game-tying two-point conversion. And after the Cowboys regained possession in the final minutes, his next pass to Miles Austin was intercepted, ending the Cowboys’ chances of an NFC East title and subsequent playoff spot.
In two seasons with the Cowboys, Orton played in four games, but mostly in mop-up duty. He did have a 95.5 quarterback rating with the Cowboys, an upgrade from his 79.9 rating over his career. The loss against the Eagles gives Orton a career record of 35-35 in his 70 starts.
QUARTERBACK POSITION OUTLOOK: The Kyle Orton cut caps busy QB offseason
Here’s the Deal:
The Kyle Orton saga is over. The Dallas Cowboys made Orton’s release official today, leaving Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie as the main backups to Tony Romo. Orton missed all the Dallas Cowboys offseason activities, losing some money (fines) in the process. Some believed he’d eventually return to the team for training camp. The Cowboys will now move forward without their primary backup.
Romo’s coming off one of his better seasons in the league, throwing 31 touchdowns passes to just 10 interceptions, but he’s also coming off a major back surgery. This is the first season in Dallas for Weeden, the former 2012 first-round pick and starter for Cleveland, who hopes to rejuvenate his career in Dallas, and Caleb Hanie. Undrafted rookie Dustin Vaughan was also added to the roster this offseason.
Will Romo need a safety net?
Just how healthy Romo really is. It’s easy to say Romo feels good right now, before the pads have come on and before he’s dealt with an NFL pass rush coming straight at him. Romo’s expected to be ready to go for training camp, but he hasn’t been involved in much of the team activities to this point. We all need to find out if Romo can get through a full 16-game season after this latest surgery. If he can’t, it’s a whole lot of unknown at the quarterback position now that Orton’s gone. Orton provided a safety net in the event Romo couldn’t go. The feeling of ease may not be the same if Romo goes down again in 2014, though Weeden hopes he can change people’s minds.
The first number to look at here is roster spots. It would have been interesting to see if the Cowboys kept three quarterbacks had Orton and Weeden both still been on the roster. We’ve seen them do that in the past with Stephen McGee. Recently, they’ve gone with just two quarterbacks, and with the many questions on defense this year, they may need to go deep on that side of the ball. That would mean keeping just Romo and Weeden on the 53-man roster this year, though there’s risk in that if Romo goes down.
To keep three quarterbacks, Hanie needs a stellar camp. When it comes to stats, Romo didn’t appear to be slowing down much in 2013. His completion percentage and yardage totals were a little down, but that latter stat could have been closer to the norm had he been healthy in Week 17.
Ready to Breakout?
The only possible answer here is Weeden. If he’s starting at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, the season hasn’t gone as planned. But the Cowboys brought Weeden in for a reason. Despite his age, they want to develop the former first-round pick and believe in his potential. The Browns didn’t boast the greatest supporting group in the league for a young quarterback while Weeden was there, and the Cowboys hope they can bring him along to become the player Cleveland thought it was getting. But, undoubtedly, the Cowboys also hope they won’t need to resort to that. Weeden needs to get his completion percentage and touchdown totals up if he’s going to become a reliable starter.
THE FOUR REMAINING QB’S: How the quarterbacks performed last season
Tony Romo — At times, Romo had impressive stats, including a 31-10 touchdown to interception ratio. His game against the Broncos was record-setting in terms of passing yards. But ultimately, he didn’t get the Dallas Cowboys in the win column for that game, or in the playoffs for the third straight year. The back injury that forced him out of the season finale proved to be a difference-maker.
Brandon Weeden — He didn’t exactly look like the first-round pick Cleveland was hoping for. He went 0-5 as a starter and was benched, which led to him being released. The Cowboys are hoping a better offensive supporting cast will enhance Weeden’s game if he makes the team and is forced to play this year.
Caleb Hanie — While he was on the Browns’ roster for all 16 games, he did not take a single snap for the second straight year. Ironically enough, he was behind Weeden on Cleveland’s depth chart like he is here in Dallas.
Dustin Vaughan — Vaughan was one of the top quarterbacks on the Division II level, earning All-American honors and he was the runner-up for the Harlon Hill Award, which is the D-2 equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. With a Division II record 5,041 yards last season, Vaughan was the only QB on any collegiate level to surpass 5,000 yards. He left school as West Texas A&M’s all-time leading passer with 13,525, which is also a Lone Star Conference record.
INBOX AND ANALYSIS: The benefit of releasing Kyle Orton
With the release of Kyle Orton a week before the team departs for Oxnard, California, the backup quarterback position is now clearer. Brandon Weeden will be the man behind Tony Romo, but what will be interesting from a roster standpoint is if the front office decides to keep three active quarterbacks.
Caleb Hanie has the most experience in the league in regard to his years of service, but these scouts are extremely high on Dustin Vaughan and he could very well get the nod over Hanie — a big picture move for the future. The last two seasons, this front office has decided to go with just two quarterbacks, which has saved the extra roster spot. But with the health questions surrounding Tony Romo going into camp, don’t believe they can take that chance. With questions at other positions as well, having to keep that third quarterback on the roster will affect some other plans such as an extra receiver, tight end, defensive linemen or linebacker.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Pro Football Analyst/Former NFL Scout
Question from CHRIS VARUOLO | NORTH BABYLON, NY: Why would the Cowboys choose to release Kyle Orton and not force his hand to retire? Not only does it let him off the signing bonus hook, but it is a cap hit for the Dallas Cowboys. What is the benefit to release him other than just moving forward?
Eatman: Actually it’s not a hit on the cap. There is some dead money but not as much as what they save in his salary. He actually creates about $1 million in space this year. The benefits of cutting him not only frees up a little room to sign Tyron Smith and/or Dez Bryant, but it removes that cloud hanging over the team and the quarterback position. Now everyone knows the deal and it’s Weeden’s job to keep. I don’t have a problem with the cut.
Helman: If you were following along during OTAs and minicamp, you remember how big of a talking point Orton’s absence was. There’s something to be said for the importance of your backup quarterback when your starter is coming off a back surgery, but I don’t think the Dallas Cowboys wanted this to hang over training camp. The money issue is manageable, and now this narrative will take a backseat to other matter when the team gets to Oxnard.
Question from TIM MCCAULEY | NEW MARKET, MD:Getting sick of players failing to show up, taking money, and then playing elsewhere. Is there any chance we get money back from Orton at this point? What makes this different than the Ratliff situation?
Eatman: No, the Dallas Cowboys won’t have the chance to get any money back from Orton since they cut him. The difference with Ratliff is health. Ratliff was supposedly so hurt that he couldn’t play and suddenly he ends up with another team. That’s why a grievance was filed to the league. Orton simply held out and it was a standoff between the team and the quarterback. Finally, they decided it wasn’t worth it and moved on by cutting him. If he decides to play on another team, there’s nothing the Cowboys can really do about it. Guys sit out all the time and the Cowboys decided it was time to cut the cord.
Helman: There’s another thing worth pointing out here: if everything went according to plan, Orton wouldn’t have played a meaningful snap of football this season, whereas Ratliff was a Pro Bowler who the Cowboys were hoping could be one of the main difference-makers on the defensive line. At the end of the day, I think the team just decided that the money lost by cutting Orton was worth getting this problem off their plate.