Two NFL teams enter the postseason starting rookie quarterbacks, though they surely did not expect to be in this position back in May.
And the two teams starting rookie quarterbacks, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, are in significantly different positions.
The Cowboys finished with the best record in the NFC at 13-3, led by the unlikely rookie duo of Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott, of course, was so good filling in for the injured Tony Romo that he won the starting job through the regular season.
The Raiders, meanwhile, cruised to 12-3 before losing third-year quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg in Week 15. With backup QB Matt McGloin getting injured in Week 17, the Raiders are starting rookie quarterback Connor Cook against the Houston Texans for the Wild Card game on Saturday.
However, these two scenarios could never have happened without the typical wheeling and dealing that comes with the NFL Draft.
As ESPN’s Adam Schefter recounted in October, the Cowboys nearly didn’t come away with Prescott in the 2016 NFL Draft. First, the Cowboys tried to trade late into the first round to draft Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. After refusing to give up a second- and a third-round pick, Dallas was beaten out by the Denver Broncos, who traded up to draft Lynch instead.
Jerry Jones later admitted he regretted not meeting the Seattle Seahawks’ (who owned the pick) demands, saying, “I’m not gonna go jump from Dallas’ tallest, so let’s put this in perspective … but if I had to do it all over again? I’d give the [third-round pick].”
Two rounds later, according to Schefter, the Cowboys were again targeting a quarterback, this time Michigan State’s Connor Cook. However, Cleveland, who owned the 100th pick Dallas was trying to nab, traded it to Oakland instead. The Raiders used the pick to draft Cook, who will make his first NFL start in the playoffs.
The Cowboys later used a fourth-round pick to draft Prescott. However, according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, Chip Kelly wanted the 49ers to draft Prescott earlier, but was shot down by GM Trent Baalke. It’s unclear if the 49ers were targeting Prescott in the fourth round, but they drafted cornerback Rashard Robinson two spots ahead of Prescott, who then went to the Cowboys at pick No. 135.
This shuffling of players could have led to wildly different results this season. Denver, going into the draft, had a quarterback problem with only Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian on board. Though Siemian won the job in training camp, if they hadn’t drafted Lynch, would they have pulled the trigger on trade for, say, Colin Kaepernick, who they were rumoured to be targeting?
Nobody could have predicted the injuries to Tony Romo in preseason or to Derek Carr in Week 15, but the backup quarterbacks could have made this season a different story. Who could be starting for the Raiders in the Wild Card game if they had not traded up to draft Connor Cook?
Or, if the Cowboys drafted Lynch or Cook, would they still be in the position they’re in today with one of them filling in for an injured Tony Romo. Would Romo have taken over again if Lynch or Cook were running the show? Would the 49ers have possibly competed for a playoff spot in Prescott was their quarterback?
These are all hypotheticals that could be asked each year, but this year, they feel especially pertinent. This year, things fell just right for Prescott to have a historic rookie season, while Cook will face a huge first test this Saturday, and Lynch will have to wait for his big moment. And the 49ers are still searching for answers at quarterback.
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