CINCINNATI — Will Grier knew when he suited up for the Dallas Cowboys’ preseason finale last weekend it would be his last snaps with the team, but also an opportunity to earn a job elsewhere. He went into it with a mix of disappointment and motivation.
That last bit of tape helped land him a spot on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad, where he is set to start out as the team’s third-string quarterback behind Joe Burrow and backup Jake Browning.
The Cowboys traded for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance last Friday, and Grier knew that meant he was getting cut with Cooper Rush also there to back up Dak Prescott. Still, Grier played every offensive snap in Dallas’ 31-16 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, completing 29-of-35 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was tough in a lot of ways,” Grier said after his first practice with the Bengals. “I think at the end of the day, it came down to ‘Do you want to play football or not play football?’ And I just said, ‘I’m going to go play.’ I put a lot into it, so I felt good about the offense and knew I could go put good tape out, so at the end of the day it made it simple to say I’m going to go play.”
Grier spent his college career at Florida and West Virginia, and the Carolina Panthers selected him in the third-round of the 2019 draft. He played the final two games of his rookie season, both rough starts, but left the Week 17 game early with a foot injury and didn’t play at all in 2020, before eventually getting cut on Aug. 31, 2021.
The Cowboys claimed Grier the next day as their No. 3 behind Prescott and Rush, but he never got a chance to play in either 2021 or 2022. After he was cut Tuesday, Grier said he received a lot of calls from interested teams but choosing Cincinnati was relatively easy.
“I think the amount of coaches (with) the quarterback experience in this building, being able to play with Joe Burrow and some of the weapons we have,” Grier said. “A big part was being on a good, competitive team, somebody that had talent and a Super Bowl contender, if you will, which clearly this place is, and that was a big part of the decision.”
Grier said it was a “weird” process being a free agent and having a say in where he could go next. He felt like Dallas was building to go “win it all” and he wanted to go somewhere else with that same vision.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor has said often he wants players “who love to play ball,” and Grier thinks he showed that in his preseason finale. He also believes he showed he is playing the best football of his career right now.
“I think I’ve got a lot more to give, but I think the longer you play in the NFL, the better you get with everything,” Grier said. “I definitely feel like I’m trending upward and continuing to get better and this place was a place I felt I would continue to get pushed and developed.”
Taylor has said he’s comfortable with Browning as the No. 2, but it would have been difficult for Grier to jump in as the backup without time to learn and settle into the system. Brandon Allen arrived in 2020 as a fourth-string quarterback and emergency option in training camp in case of COVID issues and ended up being Burrow’s backup and the starter by the end of the year when Burrow was out with an ACL tear.
Grier was someone the Bengals coaches had followed since he came out of the draft in 2019, which was Taylor’s first season in Cincinnati.
“He’s always been somebody that’s been on our radar and thought he had an exceptional most recent game,” Taylor said. “There were some great things that we’ve seen from him elsewhere as well. Think he’s a good personality fit in our room, a guy that we want to continue to work with. Very excited to get him. Very excited that he chose to come here. Excited to see what he’s about more in the upcoming weeks.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said he was “pretty high on him” in his personal evaluations of Grier coming out of college, and he showed this preseason he can still play.
“He’s got a great feel,” Callahan said. “You can see when he goes and plays games, there’s something else about him when he plays. He’s got a little edge to him. He’s really smart. I’m happy he’s here. I’ve been a fan of his, just his quarterback play. I like to watch him. I think it’s pretty cool what he did the other night in Dallas, kind of a back against the wall, trying to prove how you can play in this league and he did. I thought that was a pretty cool moment for him, and excited to have him.”