QUICK OUT: Wherefore Art Thou Romo?


Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that the final interception of the 2012 season for Tony Romo was nothing but an awful decision.  He was completely fooled by the defense and threw up an easy floater for linebacker Rob Jackson to gingerly snatch out of the air ending the Cowboys’ season.  Romo added another big-game debacle to his growing resume of misery and inconsistency.  But as bitter as I was after another “win or go home” failure, I am always amazed at the reaction by many Cowboys fans.  “CUT HIM”, they scream irrationally.  Some suggest even worse treatment – things I won’t repeat here.

Look.  I’m as disappointed and frustrated as any Cowboys fan out there.  I could taste – literally taste – nothing but disappointment for the entire week after that game.  But, to suggest the Cowboys would be better off without Romo right now is just not thinking straight.  Is Tony an elite quarterback?  Well, no.  The irrefutable evidence would suggest otherwise.  Is he the best option the Cowboys have at this stage?  Well, yes, without a doubt.  But, it didn’t have to be that way.

If you want to blame someone, blame Jerry Jones and his band of ‘yes men’ for hitching their star (literally) to the likes of a guy who was undrafted and signed with the Cowboys as a free agent out of a division II college program.  Has Romo outperformed everyone’s expectations of him coming out of college?  Absolutely!  Dallas has ridden that less than perfect horse further than anyone thought they would travel.  But, can Romo take you to the promised land?  Is he the diamond in the rough Jerry thought he had scooped the rest of the league on?  No, unfortunately he’s not.

Romo is a damn fine athlete.  But, at this level, it is literally a game of inches and tenths of a second.  Being a great athlete is not enough for a successful NFL  quarterback.  It’s mental acuity.  It’s poise under pressure.  The PGA tour is littered with really, really excellent golfers.  But, they all don’t make a career of it.  Their mechanics are all perfect.  But, at that level there are so many other intangibles that go into being able to succeed.  A golf analogy seems appropriate for Romo.  He’s also a very good golfer.  But, he wouldn’t likely make it on the PGA tour long term either.

Where Jerry went wrong was to put all his team’s “eggs” in Romo’s basket.  At the first sign of promise, they signed him to a 6-year deal in 2007 for $64 million.  In hindsight that was a sizable mistake.  Not that Tony hasn’t played well enough in general – he has – even brilliantly at times.  He’s no Ryan Leaf.  He’s given us some amazing performances but he’s also mixed in some disasters and consistently falls short when it really, really matters.   He’s in that group of good, second tier quarterbacks.  The Brad Johnson-led Buccaneers proved that you can win with these kind of guys if you build a good enough team around them.  But, Jerry hasn’t.  And, meanwhile some really promising QBs have slipped to other teams while Jerry (and his monumental ego) have been repeatedly expressing confidence in “his guy”.

Had they not signed him to a long-term deal in 2007, Romo might have tested free agency at some point.  But, would that have really hurt Dallas’ long term?  Romo has led the Cowboys to a 13-3 season in 2007 that culminated in an embarrassing early exit, 9-7 in 2008, 11-5 in 2009, 6-10 in 2010, and consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011 and 2012.  Those records aren’t all Tony’s fault, but he played a significant role in all of them except when he was injured in 2010 and only played in 6 games.

You have to ask yourself at one point which is better:  a few really bad years mired at the bottom that potentially land you a true franchise quarterback with a slew of talent around him – OR – year after year after year of mediocre, 8-8 seasons trying to turn – no disrespect intended – a sow’s ear QB into a silk purse one.  The Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts would certainly make a good case for the former strategy right now.  And, Cowboys fans are going to have to deal with the consequences of that one for a lot longer.  RGIII is the real deal and assuming he can fully recover from his knee injury, he is I fear going to cause us Cowboys fans a lot of pain over the balance of his career – unless Shanahan has forced the “golden goose” into tearing his ACL.

The Real Culprit In Dallas

Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now, the Cowboys are working feverishly to repeat the mistake once again.  Reports are that they will sign Romo to an extension during this off season instead of letting him play out the final year of his contract.  Re-signing Tony is not necessarily the mistake.  As I stated already, they don’t have any other good options at this point and they will need someone to man the wheel while they groom a replacement.  But Jerry will no doubt overpay him as a sign of “complete confidence” in his “eliteness”.  Jones appears to believe that if you pay a guy like he’s top tier, he’ll play that way.  But, it just isn’t so.  I expect to see him give Romo too much money for too many years.  Good for Tony.  I don’t begrudge the fact that he’s earned it for having to play behind patchwork offensive lines and throw to clueless receivers like Roy Williams (another brilliant Jerry move).  But, what’s the rush?

There are without a doubt teams that would sign a free agent Tony Romo.  But, he will likely get more money from Jerry than he will on the free agent market.  So, why not get a “contract year” performance out of Romo while you consider your options.  Romo is already better than a lot of the journeyman, free agent quarterbacks that will be on the market.  That isn’t the answer.  Ask Seattle and Arizona how their recent big free agent QB signings worked out.

The 2013 draft doesn’t have a robust assortment of franchise quarterbacks like 2012 did (a perfect example of sitting on our hands while we were all locked up with Tony) but there might be a Russell Wilson or two in there.  Odds are likely better with the 2014 group.  But, if we’re not careful, we will have hitched our star to Romo again and draft instead a long shot late rounder like the failed experiment with Stephen McGee.  Mock drafts are a bit of a joke at this stage, but Draftek to name one service is already projecting NC State’s QB Mike Glennon going to the Cowboys in the 5th round this year.  I’m sure he’s a fine player but the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins are not shaking in their boots about that potential pickup.  And, there are a fistful of other prospects just like that.

With all due respect, we don’t need to roll the dice and hope to find that diamond in the rough at quarterback.  We need to land the next Troy Aikman.  It took us having some awful years to land him, but oh how glorious were the rewards!  What we have now is the reincarnation of Danny White at QB.  Good, but not great enough.  I’d rather face a season or two where I knew going into each and every Sunday the Cowboys were going to invest in the future by losing.  What we have now is a team just good enough to raise your hopes before they emotionally kick you in the gonads and fall short.  It hurts.  It really, really hurts.  Like a car wreck where everything feels like it is moving in slow motion, I can see how Jerry is going to play this scenario out but everyone is powerless to stop it.  It spells a lot more disappointment I fear.  But, I’ll be here through every painful moment (shaking my head at what might have been).  Go Cowboys!