Dec 22, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) throws a touchdown pass as Washington Redskins defensive end Chris Baker (92) defends in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The Dallas Cowboys didn’t select a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft, but they still managed to prepare for Tony Romo’s eventual successor.
With Romo turning 34 and coming off two back surgeries in less than a year, many respected voices in the NFL community determined the time had come this year to draft a replacement and begin grooming. Consider this predraft assessment from Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket’s Bob Sturm:
"There is no way that the Cowboys can feel great anymore about the long-term situation with Tony Romo. They have to believe that he will recover and could be their QB until 2016, but the idea of pushing off the next young prospect at the position may be over. They have to know with the back issue and the age and the contract, that the time is now to figure out what the plan may be in the next chapter of their franchise."
With the back issue and the age and the contract, the time is now to figure out what the plan may be in the next chapter of their franchise.
Sturm’s take is reasonable and well-stated. Yet with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel forcing the grim, green room smile of the sliding superstar, the Cowboys used the 16th pick of the 2014 NFL draft on a consensus plug-and-play guard in Notre Dame’s Zack Martin. They then used their remaining eight picks on seven assorted defenders and a 5th round receiver whose apparent strength is crisp route running.
The Martin pick means Romo’s eventual successor – be it two or three years down the road, or tomorrow – could be taking snaps behind a line boasting three first-round picks in Martin (2014), Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (2011), and All-Rookie center Travis Frederick (2013).
The rest of their picks suggest the team is preparing for a day in the not too distant future when quarterback play is not the strength of their team.
The success of franchises like Seattle and San Francisco demonstrate that young, inexperienced quarterbacks can develop on the fly if they’re not running for their lives behind a porous offensive line. Not to take anything away from guys like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, but each plays behind one of the strongest offensive lines in the league and is supported by a Top 5 defense.
Recent first round quarterbacks, such as Brandon Weeden in Cleveland (who is interestingly now a Cowboy) and Ryan Tannehill in Miami, were dropped into less advantageous situations and consequently struggled. Their failures could have more to do with the players around them. Success on a football field is dependent on 11 guys executing their assigned roles on any given play. Ten players can execute to perfection, and if the remaining one fails, the play can and often does fail. We see it routinely with a blown tackle, a missed block, a dropped pass, or a poor read.
That’s why a quarterback like Romo is so valuable – his playmaking ability can compensate for multiple failures on any given play, turning it into a positive for the team. He has a rare skill set – one the team is unlikely to find in his successor. Quarterbacks like Romo are just hard to come by.
It appears the Cowboys brass knows that, and is preparing to drop Romo’s eventual replacement into the most advantageous situation possible. A quality offensive line makes every skill position player behind it better – particularly the quarterback. No one can say for sure that’s the team’s plan, but young, untested quarterbacks who are well protected have had recent success in this league. No doubt the team is hoping for a healthy Tony Romo, but they appear to be planning for contingencies. No one’s saying as much, but the Cowboys’ investment of three first-round picks in four years on the O Line is a truth of some kind.