By Matthew Postins
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl. But the national media is talking plenty about Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, too.
Such is life when you’re the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. After a week of quotes and conversations about the Cowboys’ signal-caller, several thoughts came pouring out:
Tony Romo is young? That’s what head coach Jason Garrett thinks. He said so during a Friday news conference at the NFL Scouting Combine. Garrett’s exact quote, per multiple outlets? “I think Tony’s a young player. He’s 32 right now, but if you remember he didn’t play his first three or four years at all.”
Yeah, but he’s 32. Age-wise, in the NFL, 32 is an age when players start to feel those years, no matter when they started actually playing.
Let’s spin it another way. Romo has 93 starts in his career. Look at the 32 starting quarterbacks at the end of last season and he ranks in a tie for eighth in career starts with Jay Cutler. That shows you how volatile the position is and, to a degree, how stable Romo has been.
Here’s the problem. Look at the players ahead of him – Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers. The Manning Brothers, Brady, Brees and Roethlisberger each have at least one ring. While Vick, Rivers and Cutler don’t, they’ve each led their team to at least one conference title game.
Romo has one playoff win.
Perhaps age isn’t the issue.
The Romo extension. Everyone in the Cowboys organization seems to want to seem to give him one. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones has been doing the talking this week in Indianapolis, and he told the media that Romo is a great quarterback that the team wants to have in Dallas for the next four or five years.
But let’s be clear about who holds the cards. That would be Romo.
He’s the unquestioned starter for a team that only has Kyle Orton behind him and seems to have no sense of urgency in identifying a future starter. If you’re a Romo hater, your belief is probably that Romo is holding the team hostage.
That’s not altogether inaccurate. He counts $16.8 million against the salary cap in 2013. The Cowboys are $22 million over the cap. You do the math. The Cowboys have no choice but to extend Romo for the length of time that Jones outlined because it’s the only way to get the cap space they need.
The problem isn’t the $16.8 million cap figure. It’s the $11.5 million base salary. If the Cowboys do anything with his contract, that’s where they’ll start. They’ll convert that base salary into a bonus, pro-rate it over the life of the contract and save roughly $7-8 million in 2013.
Why not trade him or release him? You don’t trade him because I truly don’t believe a team is desperate enough to deal a first-round pick for Romo. Now, there is precedent for an established quarterback to go for a first-round pick. Joe Montana was traded to Kansas City, along with two other players, for a first-rounder. Jay Cutler was moved from Denver to Chicago for a deal that involved a first-round pick. Going further back, Fran Tarkenton and Norm Van Brocklin were moved for first-rounders. If you can’t get a first-rounder for Romo, it’s still not worth it, in my opinion. Orton is just a guy. Plus, if you trade Romo you have to pick a quarterback in the first round and that turns whoever is behind center into a punching bag for 2013.
If you release Romo you still have to take the cap hit on his pro-rated bonus. You may actually be able to save more money restructuring his deal than by releasing him. Plus you stay competitive.
My opinion? Don’t draft a quarterback. Rather, poach a backup from another team with a reasonable contract. One player to consider? Seattle’s Matt Flynn, who is under contract for two more years and is doing nothing in Seattle, thanks to Russell Wilson. He’s a great fit for the Cowboys’ offense down the road.
Why, you ask? Well, after Aikman the Cowboys have drafted three other quarterbacks under Jerry Jones’ ownership – Bill Musgrave, Quincy Carter and Stephen McGee.
A dubious track record to say the least.
Why have a plan for the future? Remember that Troy Aikman guy, the one who led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins? Remember how old he was when he retired?
Romo turns 33 in April. He’s just 14 months away from turning 34.
Remember what the Cowboys had on their roster at quarterback the day Aikman retired?
That April, less than a month after Aikman retired, the Cowboys drafted their quarterback of the future.
Oh, and they had Ryan Leaf and Anthony Wright in 2001, too.
The Cowboys had no succession plan then and they have no succession plan now.
It’s as if Jerry Jones learned nothing from his past mistakes.
From here, that’s harder to swallow than the $60 or $70 million the Cowboys will pay Romo in the next few weeks.
As Aikman proved, it can all end on a few poorly-timed hits to the head.