The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most historic franchises in the NFL. They have five Super Bowl rings, second-most all time, and they have drafted two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, in Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. Dallas is still America’s team, but they have not been a legitimate Super Bowl contender since the ’90s. But the blame does not fall on the shoulders of the team’s quarterbacks that they are not favorites in the Super Bowl betting odds.
For most of the 21st century, the Cowboys have had Tony Romo, but he was an undrafted free agent. In this series, we will look at the history of drafted QBs by the Cowboys and see how their careers panned out.
Quincy Carter (2001)
With Aikman retiring in 2000, the Cowboys looked to the future, as they drafted Quincy Carter out of Georgia with a second-round pick, Dallas’ first in the 2001 NFL draft. The selection was criticized by the media and Cowboys fans, but owner Jerry Jones seemed to be the one who wanted the team to take Carter. As a result, Dallas named Carter the starting QB for the 2001 season, making him the first, second-round quarterback to start NFL Week one.
Unfortunately, Carter sustained a thumb and hamstring injury during the season, which limited him to start only eight games. The Cowboys went 3-5 with the rookie under center, and he only completed 51.1 percent of his passes for 1,072 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. In 2002, Carter was benched after starting seven games, although his numbers were clearly better than the prior season, with a 56.6 completion percentage, 1,465 passing yards with seven touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
Bill Parcells was named the Dallas head coach in 2003, and Carter was named the starting QB again. In this season, he played all 16 games, and the Cowboys went 10-6. Carter put up good numbers but still had an issue turning the ball over. He threw 21 interceptions to 17 touchdowns and passed for 3,302 yards with a 57.8 completion percentage. But in 2004, the Cowboys quarterback room was crowded. With the addition of Vinny Testaverde and Tony Romo, Carter was cut from the team after failing a third drug test.
Carter signed with the New York Jets in 2004 and started three games, and his performance helped New York into the playoffs. However, Carter was inactive for the Jets’ playoff game, as he would enroll in rehab, and 2004 was the last year for Carter in the NFL.
Carter was a talented player and showed some promise in the NFL, but unfortunately, he had substance abuse issues that are what ultimately kept him out of the NFL.
Isaiah Stanback (2007)
With the emergence of Romo as their starting quarterback, the Cowboys did not appear to have a definitive need at QB. However, Isaiah Stanback was a quarterback at the University of Washington, and Dallas took him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He never took an NFL snap at that position, however, as he was moved to receiver and kickoff/punt returner. Stanback was active for two games in 2007 but did not record a reception, although he did return three kicks for 78 yards, with a long of 35.
Carter finished his career
Stanback saw more playing time in 2008, he played eight games and returned ten kicks for 218 yards, and his longest return was 58 yards. He also caught two passes for 24 yards. Stanback was waived in 2009 and bounced around the league, mainly as a practice squad member. He was on the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and was on the New York Giants practice squad when they won Super Bowl XLVI. Carter finished his career with six catches for 52 yards and averaged 22.7 yards a kick return.
Stephen McGee (2009)
Looking for quarterback depth, the Cowboys took Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, McGee injured his knee while throwing his first NFL touchdown pass during the preseason. He recovered but was inactive as the third-string QB for the entire 2009 season.
Romo injured his collarbone in 2010, and McGee was promoted to second string. At the end of the year, Jon Kitna went down with an injury. McGee stepped in for the remainder of the game and started the last game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. McGee led the Cowboys to a victory over their division rival, completing 11 of his 27 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys won 14-13.
McGee filled in for an injured Romo in 2011, and that was the last time he played in an NFL game. The Cowboys released McGee in 2012, and he did not sign with another team until January 2013, when the Houston Texans signed, but he was unable to beat out Case Keenum for the third-string quarterback spot and was cut from the team.
Dak Prescott (2016)
The Cowboys have drafted some great quarterbacks in their history, but their best one might have been getting their next franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott in the fourth round. Prescott made a name for himself at Mississippi State, holding 38 school records when he left in 2015.
Prescott climbed his way up the depth chart in training camp and was set to be the backup to starter Tony Romo during his rookie season. That changed when Romo suffered a career-ending back injury in the preseason, and Prescott had to start NFL Week one. Prescott had no problem stepping in; he started all 16 games and had one of the best rookie seasons for a QB in NFL history. The Cowboys went 13-3, winning the NFC East but losing in the divisional round. Prescott racked up 3,667 passing yards with 23 touchdowns to only four interceptions and completed 67.8 percent of his passes. The Dallas QB was an easy choice for Rookie of the Year, and he made the Pro Bowl.
There was no sophomore slump for Prescott as he continued to have success while being paired with running back Ezekiel Elliot. 2018 was another Pro Bowl year for Prescott, and he threw for 3,885 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Amazingly, Prescott was not named to the Pro Bowl in 2019, despite having the best statistical year of his career, throwing for a career-high 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns.
2020 was looking like an MVP season for Prescott, he was leading the league in passing yards through the first five games, but against the New York Giants, he suffered a gruesome ankle injury that ended his season. What made the injury even more heart-wrenching is that Prescott expected to sign a massive contract in the offseason, and this injury could have cost him millions of dollars.
Despite the injury, Prescott signed a new four-year $160 million contract to stay with the Cowboy and is expected to be healthy to start the 2021 season. With that distraction eliminated, Dallas looks to have the team’s quarterback of the future.
Ben DiNucci (2020)
With their last pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Cowboys took James Madison QB Ben DiNucci. Incredibly, due to Dallas’ quarterback injuries, DiNucci actually started a game in his rookie season. After the Prescott injury, Andy Dalton stepped in as the starting QB and started the next two games. DiNucci had to come into the Oct. 25th game against the Washington Football Team because Dalton suffered a concussion in the third quarter. The Cowboys ended up losing the game 25-3.
The following week, it was clear Dalton was not going to play, and the Cowboys announced that DiNucci would start on Sunday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was also clear that DiNucci was not yet a starting NFL quarterback. He went 21-of-40 for 180 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was sacked seven times and lost a fumble that was returned 53-yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys lost 23-9.
The following week, DiNucci was demoted to backup in favor of Garrett Gilbert.
The Cowboys did not draft many quarterbacks in the last 20+ years, mainly because they found a good one and did not have to use a draft pick to get him. When they did use an NFL draft pick, they found gold late. Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent, arguably one of the best in NFL history, and Dak Prescott was a steal for Dallas in the fourth round.
Those moves have not led to playoff success, however, mainly due to the Cowboys’ defense, or lack thereof. Prescott signed a four-year contract, meaning that he will be there for a while. The Cowboys’ odds to win the Super Bowl show that the NFL sportsbook believes that the Cowboys are still a middle-of-the-pack team, albeit with one of the best young quarterbacks in the game.