Dallas Cowboys: Is Tony Romo only a second tier quarterback?


Last week, ESPN released an NFL quarterback ranking system that groups every starting quarterback in the league into one of five tiers. A panel of 35 anonymous experts including coaches, executives and general managers still active in the game, comprised the rankings and they collectively think that Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo is a second-tier NFL quarterback.

The five tiers according to this ranking system are defined below:

  • Tier 1 quarterbacks can carry their teams week after week and contend for championships without as much help.
  • Tier 2 QBs are less consistent and need more help, but good enough to figure prominently into a championship equation.
  • Tier 3 are quarterbacks who are good enough to start but need lots of support, making it tougher to contend at the highest level.
  • Tier 4 is typically reserved for unproven starters or those who might not be expected to last in the lineup all season. Voters used the fifth tier sparingly. Link

"On Romo, one current NFL offensive coordinator said, “I do not care how sexy he looks throwing, he is a 2 to me because I know if it ends up in his hands, it is 50-50 [whether] he is going to make the big mistake.”"

This argument seems supported by popular conjecture and not statistical proof. Rather, the stats indicated that Romo was the third-best 4th quarter passer in the league last season.

So I would ask this offensive coordinator, who spends all week looking at the opposing team’s defense, not their quarterback, to point out the critical 4th quarter mistake Romo made last season. In 2014, the Cowboys’ quarterback had seven touchdown passes compared to 3 interceptions in the game’s final quarter.

Also, Romo had five 4th quarter comebacks last season (against the St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants and in the wildcard round of the playoffs against the Detroit Lions). In those situations his overall rating was an amazing 116.48 so in 2014 Romo made few, if any “big” mistakes, especially with the game on the line.

Another NFL offensive coach said that Romo’s success depends on the team’s scheme or his teammates.

"“Last year, he played like a 1 because they ran it and kept it out of his hands. That helped him and his interceptions went under 10.” he said. Link"

However, applying this theory to other quarterbacks diminishes the greatness of many Hall-of-Fame signal callers, especially the Denver Bronco’s John Elway who is widely considered to be one of the top five to ever play the position. Until the arrival of running back Terrell Davis, Elway was known for his 4th quarter heroics but because he was asked to carry his team with his right arm, he also made plenty of mistakes in crucial moments.

Last season was the first in Romo’s career when he had a star running back to help him carry the offensive load. Any quarterback is better when the team has a strong ground game; just ask Hall of Famer and Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor member, Troy Aikman who was considered the best quarterback of the 1990’s while playing alongside the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, Emmitt Smith.

Several members of the panel did put Romo in the top tier. In fact, one NFL personnel director had glowing remarks about the Cowboy’s passer.

"“Unequivocally, he is a top 6-7 quarterback…Romo can find people and make all the throws. He had only one year where he threw a ton of picks…Romo can make a play to win the game.” Link (Source: The Dallas Morning News)"

In ESPN’s rankings, Tony Romo is grouped in the second tier with the Seattle Seahawk’s Russell Wilson, the San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, the Atlanta Falcon’s Matt Ryan, two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning of the New York Giants, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Romo’s improvement has been more of a result of maturity and experience than offensive scheme. As he has become less of a celebrity, as he was in his first five years as the Cowboy’s starter, he has put his year-round energy into being a quarterback rather than being a golfer, tabloid star and rock band front man.

Going by the given definition of a second tier quarterback according to ESPN , Romo’s placement in tier two (no. 9 overall) is fair and justifiable. However, with the loss of running back DeMarco Murray to the Philadelphia Eagles, 2015 will be Romo’s best opportunity to prove that he is indeed a top tier NFL quarterback.

Obviously, winning a Super Bowl title wouldn’t hurt Romo’s perception.

Next: Dallas Cowboys add another Running Back to the mix