Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/14/12
Kyle Orton represents a new direction for the Cowboys when it comes to their backup quarterbacks. Previous backups like Jon Kitna and Brad Johnson have been near the end of line in their NFL careers. Johnson had actually crossed the line, but the Cowboys didn't know it until his near-disastrous stint filling in for Romo in 2008. Orton hasn't even turned 30 yet. He will cross that threshold in November. He's two-and-a-half years younger than starter Tony Romo. Orton is a quarterback still in his prime, age-wise. He's made 69 career starts. This is a guy who still has starter potential, given the right circumstances. Last season, he started five games for the Broncos before Tebowmania took over. After being waived, he won two of his three starts with the Chiefs and helped hand the Packers their only regular-season loss. The Cowboys tried to claim Orton off waivers last season. On Wednesday, the NFL Network and others reported that Orton signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys. Orton's signing is an acknowledgement that the Cowboys know Romo is aging and that his odds of staying healthy a full season aren't what they used to be. Two years ago, an unblocked rusher ended Romo's season with a broken collarbone. Last season, Romo played through cracked ribs and a bruised hand. If Orton had been on the roster in 2011-12, he might have gotten a start while Romo rested. He might have given Romo a chance to regain his senses when Romo was throwing all those interceptions against Detroit. There's a lot of ifs and buts involved in the equation, but having an younger, accomplished backup last season might have won the Cowboys a game. It might have put them in the playoffs. The Cowboys went 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2008 when Romo missed three games with a broken finger. Johnson was 1-2 in place of Romo. Not that Orton is a savior, or that he will push Romo for the starting spot. If Orton were that good, he wouldn't be signing a three-year deal as a backup. But remember that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was a career backup quarterback. He understands the value of the position. He also understands the physical pounding Romo has been taking. Signing a capable backup QB is an easier fix than bolstering the offensive line. If you're Romo or Orton, you have to hope the Cowboys still plan to make some improvements there. The Orton signing is also a signal that Stephen McGee is not ready to be the backup. McGee was a project when he was drafted in 2009 and hasn't elevated his status much beyond that. Obtaining Orton also means the Cowboys won't be drafting a quarterback-of-the-future in April. All the extra snaps in training camp and practice will go to Orton. If the past few seasons are any indication, he's going to need them. Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
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