MVP replacements: Dallas Cowboys

Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters, along with Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others; draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

One of Jerry Jones’ biggest laments as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys is that the club has wasted three (mostly) healthy seasons in Tony Romo’s prime.

The quarterback has started 47 of the team's past 48 games, played at a high level (mostly), and the best the Cowboys have to show for it are three eight-win seasons.

Romo is the Cowboys’ most valuable player. He covers up a lot of flaws on offense and defense. He can make an offensive line look better than it is with his ability to create out of the pocket. He can make up for a poor defense by putting up enough points to win a game.

The Cowboys are 6-6 in their last 12 games without Romo, including the 2013 season-finale loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that kept them out of the playoffs.

At some point, however, the Cowboys will have to look for his successor. With Romo coming off back surgery, it would seem the sooner the better -- but that does not sound as if it's in Jones’ plans.

Veteran Kyle Orton played well in Romo’s absence, throwing for 358 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first start since the 2011 season finale while with the Kansas City Chiefs. But Orton is 31 as he enters the final year of his contract. The Cowboys will have several salary-cap decisions to make, and Orton’s $4.377 million cap figure could force the team to restructure his deal again or cut him.

The Cowboys do not have a developmental quarterback on the roster. They had Alex Tanney on the practice squad for most of the season before he left for the Cleveland Browns’ active roster. The Cowboys have drafted two quarterbacks since 2000 (Quincy Carter in 2001 and Stephen McGee in 2009) and Jones does not want to take a quarterback early in the draft.

Taking a quarterback in the middle rounds, like McGee, is hardly the recipe for success, either.

With all of the needs defensively, Jones might be able to push back a decision on the quarterback to 2015.