Dallas Cowboys: Was That Tony Romo’s Last Shot?


It was a memorable season for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and the rest of his teammates. The signal caller had the best statistical season of his career and will probably finish just behind the man who beat his Sunday afternoon–Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers–in the Most Valuable Player voting.

However, Romo’s mortality as a player is becoming a factor for this franchise. The 12-year veteran will be 35 years old when the team begins next season, and it is fair to wonder if this was his last chance for a championship.

The answer of that question is obviously an unknown, but Romo’s health, the status of a few key coaching staff, and numerous free agents will determine if the Eastern Illinois alumni can finally clear that hurdle. It seemed like a divine alignment from the football gods that might finally get Dallas and its quarterback over the hump.

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A fortunate non-call pass interference and facing perhaps the best player in the league on one leg, seemed like the big break this team finally needed. It was another controversial call on wide receiver Dez Bryant‘s 4th and 2 reception that broke their back–another season, another disappointment.

With three first-round pick studs on the Dallas offensive line, the team has ensured its relevance for the rest of the Romo tenure. Bryant is set for free agency, but the team’s front office has made it known he will be a Cowboy one way or another next season.

Head coach Jason Garrett just finished out the last year of his contract, but it seems like a formality that he will return to lead the team once again. However, there are other pivotal moves that may define the remaining years of Romo’s tenure.

Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com reported that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could be leaving for a reunion with Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith. Marinelli was in the final year of his contract with Dallas, and is free to join any team. The long time defensive guru was among the biggest reasons the Cowboys defense returned to respectable form this season after finishing dead last statistically last season.

"“Per a league source, Marinelli currently is expected to join the Buccaneers, likely as the defensive coordinator”, Florio said after Sunday’s defeat. “It’s unclear what that would mean for current Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.”"

The status of running back DeMarco Murray‘s return is still an unknown at this point as well. The fourth-year back put his stamp on franchise history by surpassing Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith‘s previous record. Murray’s historic season, with the help of the offensive line, took pressure off Romo to make all the plays on offense. A three-down back with a team first attitude, coming off his best year, would seem to be a shoe-in to return.

However, the Cowboys don’t seem eager to take Murray off the market. Now is a good time to remind fans that it was a short time ago that the team was spurned after signing running back Marion Barber III to a seven-year, 45 million dollar contract extension.

Other factors include Murray getting well over 400 touches this season, and the devaluing of the running back position in general around the league. The negotiations between the back and the team will be a huge storyline in the offseason, as Murray has the support of team leaders Romo and tight end Jason Witten.

Other key free agents that will impact the future are linebackers Rolando McClain, Justin Durant, and Bruce Carter. McClain looked dominant at times, but the team has to consider if if wants another long-term contact for an injury riddled player.

Durant could be a value signing after he ended the season on injured reserve, but looked like he was playing the best football of his career. Carter struggled at times, but his knack for the big play helped the defense tremendously. Another team will probably offer him a starting position and better money, which the Cowboys probably can’t guarantee the former second-round draft pick.

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With the offense set, the pressure will lay on assistant director of player personnel Will McClay to rebuild the defense. A few cornerstone players like defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, and oft injured linebacker Sean Lee are already in place.

Now, he must continue to find value free agents and uncovered draft diamonds to supplement the Cowboys offense. The defense, while improved, doesn’t seem to be of a championship pedigree–and should be the focus of the offseason.

While this year truly felt like the year Romo and his team could make that improbable run, there still will be chances in the next few years. The battle tested signal caller seems to have cleared any mental hurdles that would impede him or his team.

With the men up front to block for a running game and protect the quarterback, the Cowboys offense is primed for success. If the defense can pick up the slack, there should be no reason this team can’t get to this point and further in the coming years. And should they not, it won’t be because of their gutty leader–Tony Romo.