IRVING, Texas -- You can blame owner and general manager Jerry Jones for a lot of the Dallas Cowboys’ failings the past few years. This is his roster and he neglected to do anything to the defensive line in the offseason. He picked the defensive coordinator. He wanted Jason Garrett to give up the play calling.
But in the Christmas spirit, let’s give Jones some credit for a move that will now pay off for the Cowboys: signing Kyle Orton.
When the Cowboys gave Orton a $5 million signing bonus two years ago many people scoffed because of the money the team tied up in a guy they hoped would never play and the money they would have to tie into the quarterback position with Tony Romo needing a new contract. Romo counts $11.8 million against the cap. Orton counts $1.9 million, thanks to an offseason restructuring.
But now the Cowboys find themselves with a fighting chance Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, because they have a veteran like Orton to turn to with Romo most likely unable to play because of a bad back. They do not have to turn to an untested quarterback with little to no playing time. They move to a guy with 69 career starts and a 35-34 record. They go to a guy with 81 career touchdown passes. He has not played much football in recent years -- just 15 passes in two seasons with the Cowboys -- but for a short-term run, the Cowboys are OK here.
And that’s why I believe Orton can lead the Cowboys to the playoffs.
The game plan will not change much. The Cowboys will miss Romo’s ability to make things up. Think about how Romo was able to get away from trouble against the Redskins for big plays: Dez Bryant’s touchdown, Miles Austin’s first-down catch, Terrance Williams’ 51-yarder. That element is all but gone from the offense. Orton just does not have that ability. As good as the offensive line has played in the running game, it will have to improve in the passing game with Orton.
But the Cowboys do not have to hold back their game plan with Orton. He can make all the throws down the field. He is a quick decision-maker. He knows where to go with the ball. Maybe more importantly he knows where not to go with the ball. The offense will be much more about the system now than Romo. In 2010, Jon Kitna was able to make the system work. He was older than Orton but he made it work.
Will Orton play perfectly? Absolutely not. But he gives the Cowboys a chance.
And in a season as wacky as this one -- with four one-point games and six going down to the final minutes -- why not believe Orton can get it done?