Sunday’s starter at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys might seem obvious, but a year ago, the Cowboys had a seemingly obvious choice to make at quarterback that the embarrassingly botched. With nothing to play for after being eliminated from playoff contention by the Seattle Seahawks a week earlier, the Cowboys should have viewed their Week 17 battle with the Philadelphia Eagles as nothing more than a throwaway.
They should have protected their starters from injury and given their backups a chance to prove themselves. Yet, with nothing on the line, Dak Prescott lined up under center. Ezekiel Elliott played running back. And the Cowboys cost themselves quite a bit in terms of draft positioning by winning a game they had no incentive to win.
So as obvious as starting Cooper Rush on Sunday might seem, it is by no means a given. Jason Garrett could very easily screw it up, and the implications of doing so are far greater than risking injury. The Cowboys can’t make any noise in the playoffs without Dak Prescott, but they also need to prepare themselves for the possibility of life without him in the future.
Prescott has never missed a start, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t come close. He endured a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Washington Redskins that Tony Romo openly called a concussion on the air. He has dealt with ankle injuries all year. Eventually, a time is going to come when the Cowboys need someone besides Prescott to play. It might be for a half. It might be for a season. But Prescott is not going to stay on the field forever.
And when that time comes, the Cowboys have absolutely no idea what’s waiting behind him. Cooper Rush has attempted three NFL passes. Mike White has not been active for a single game. While the team could argue that it did just fine with an inexperienced quarterback when Prescott relieved Romo and Kellen Moore in 2016, he was a former Heisman Trophy candidate. Rush and White lack that sort of pedigree. They are camp bodies who stuck around because the Cowboys didn’t want to pay veterans.
That’s not necessarily a bad tactic. The Cowboys prefer to use their cap space on plays who they actually intend to use. But refusing to use the cheaper options that replace those veterans when the situation calls for it is downright irresponsible. The Cowboys obviously hope that Rush is capable of playing in a pinch. But when is a better time to find out that he can’t: on Sunday in a game that means nothing? Or next season, in a critical divisional game against the Eagles? Before you say that predicting an injury to Prescott is ridiculous, remember that Eagles fans said the same thing about Carson Wentz around 13 months ago.
The Cowboys don’t have Nick Foles waiting in the wings. They have two unproven commodities. They have a chance to let them prove themselves or flame out trying. The Cowboys should let Rush and White each play a half on Sunday against the Giants. It’s far from a reliable sample, but if the Cowboys are going to run with them as the backups of the future, then they should probably at least try to get a sense ahead of time of whether or not they can hold up against true NFL-caliber competition.