Dallas Cowboys: Why Andy Dalton is the starter, not Garrett Gilbert

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s a reason the Dallas Cowboys chose to go back to Andy Dalton instead of sticking with Garrett Gilbert.

There haven’t been many happy surprises in this 2020 season for the Dallas Cowboys. Pretty much anything that could have gone wrong, has gone wrong. And with the exception of Garrett Gilbert‘s solid play in the losing effort against Pittsburgh, there hasn’t been much to feel good about.

That’s why the Dallas Cowboys decision to go with the underwhelming Andy Dalton at starting QB, instead of sticking with Gilbert, was a bit of a head scratcher to fans. After all, we saw what Dalton had to offer in his two starts: It was a whole lotta “jack” and and two cups of “squat”.

So why then are the Dallas Cowboys going back to the man that’s struggled the most? Why are they starting a guy who’s only using Dallas as a stepping stone this season and likely to leave in the winter? Allow me to speculate…

The Dallas Cowboys signed Andy Dalton to a 1-year/$3 million year deal this past offseason. While it wasn’t as good of bargain as Jameis Winston is in New Orleans, it’s regarded as a good value buy for Dallas nonetheless. It stands to reason other teams would have paid more and Dalton chose Dallas for reasons other than money.

Keep in mind, backing up Dak Prescott isn’t a very ideal situation if you actually want to play. Up until his season-ending injury, Dak had never missed an NFL game. He’s been the definition of durable as a pro and there are about 31 other QB2 spots in the league more likely to offer snaps. So why on earth did Dalton choose Dallas?

I’m not going to pretend to know what’s going on in Andy’s head but I can certainly read the situation. I assume Dalton signed with Dallas so he could rebuild his value around the league. His last couple seasons in Cincinnati didn’t go so well and some were starting to think Dalton could be washed at age 33.

Getting a fresh start in Dallas could reinvigorate him. It would expose him to a different coaching staff and a different offensive philosophy. Even if he never gets a chance to start he’s made an inroads with a new coaching circle and expanded his knowledge of the game. It adds value.

And if something happened to Dak, Dallas would provide the perfect opportunity for Dalton to ball out. He signed with a team that boasted a top-5 offensive line, a top-5 running game, and arguably the best collection of pass catchers in the league.

Combine that with their porous defense and you had a high powered offense that was in position to be in more than a handful of shootouts. That’s a good spot to be in if you’re trying to build your value in the league as a passer and hoping to cash in on one more starting gig in 2021.

No one could have predicted the Cowboys would lose their offensive line before the season ever began or that the running game would fall flat on it’s face. The NFL’s best situation quickly became a nightmare scenario for a QB trying to build up his stock.

What does this have to do with the Dallas Cowboys deciding to start Dalton over Gilbert?

Reputation. The Dallas Cowboys promised Dalton a chance to rebuild his value. If they bench him now all Dalton has effectively done is shovel dirt on his own grave. It also sends a message around the league that Dallas is not a place that treats veterans like him optimally.

Veteran players like Dalton don’t want to join a meritocracy. They have already been through that. What they’re looking for is opportunity and commitment. Even though Garrett Gilbert clearly played better than Dalton this season, the Cowboys are showing their loyalty and commitment to a veteran.

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If Dalton takes this opportunity and falls on his face the next two weeks, no one can say the Cowboys didn’t give him plenty of chances. Dallas would have done right by the veteran and players and agents would take notice. So the next time a veteran is looking for a chance to rebuild value, they’ll know Dallas is a place where they give you a fair shake. Agents keep a watchful eye on things like this.

So this commitment to Dalton may be nothin more than signaling. Signaling to the NFL that Dallas is the place for redemption. Look at what they’ve done for Aldon Smith. And even Robert Quinn a season before. This is the place for second chances.

Does Dalton deserve to start over Garrett Gilbert? Probably not, but Dalton is going to get all the rope he needs – what he does with it is all on him and can’t be pinned on Dallas.

Or… perhaps the Cowboys just think Dalton’s better and Gilbert’s performance was a fluke. Or…they just want to lose out and are organically tanking the season. Unlikely but possible, I suppose.

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If you ask me, I’m with most of Cowboys Nation in saying Gilbert deserves to start at QB this week, but no one’s asking us. The best we can do is try to understand why the team is doing what what they’re doing and that’s more about name, reputation, and public image than it is about giving the ball to the best man for the job.

  • Published on 11/20/2020 at 13:01 PM
  • Last updated at 11/20/2020 at 08:38 AM