Almost eight weeks ago against Philadelphia in a do-or-die regular-season finale, the Cowboys lost as Kyle Orton made his first start for Dallas. Whether it will be his last could depend on his desire to return to the team.

Word has trickled through the Valley Ranch grapevine, according to a source within the club, that the backup quarterback isn’t sure he wants to play next season.

Another member of the organization said he was unaware of Orton’s plans for the future. And a third was 99 percent confident that Orton, 31, would not walk away from the team because of financial disincentives.

The news comes less than two months after Orton filled in for an injured Tony Romo, the 33-year-old veteran whose recovery from a herniated disk requiring surgery has become a story line this off-season.

When reached at his Iowa home, Orton’s father, Byron, declined to comment on his son’s future. A call placed to the office of Orton’s agent, David Dunn, went unreturned. Even the slightest uncertainty about Orton’s situation has to be disconcerting for the Cowboys given Romo’s condition and the absence of another quarterback on the roster.

Earlier this week, the club’s executive vice president, Stephen Jones, touted Orton’s value to the team.

“I do think Orton is capable, if something happens to Tony, of playing well,” Jones said. “You have to have two [serviceable] quarterbacks.”

Orton’s decision could have major implications on everything from the Cowboys’ draft strategy, to the moves they make, as they trim their bloated payroll to get under the salary ceiling by the March 11 deadline.

Orton’s $4.377 million cap number is the tenth-highest on the team. And if he chooses to retire, he will create much-needed space for the Cowboys while having to pay back prorated portions of the signing bonus he received, according to a source.

At the same time, he would open a spot on the roster the Cowboys would have to fill. Earlier this off-season, owner Jerry Jones said the club won’t invest a high-value draft choice in a quarterback.

“An early pick would be more inclined to be one that you would say, ‘Use now,’” Jones explained in January.

“The other thing we’ve got is when you draft out of that first round, those are four-year contracts and three-year contracts as you go down, so to some degree, you’re just drafting one to develop for somebody else.”