Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo held perhaps the most difficult news conference of his career Tuesday at the team’s brand-new practice facility in Frisco. Reading from a carefully prepared statement, Romo effectively conceded this was no longer his football team.
“He’s earned the right to be our quarterback,” said Romo, speaking of rookie phenom Dak Prescott. “As hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record and that’s hard to do.”
I don’t believe anyone asked Romo to make this statement. But with the likelihood of being activated this Sunday against the Ravens for the first time this season, Romo wanted to do everything he could to make this situation less awkward. Up until about three weeks ago, he believed there was a chance to regain his starting job. But the team has responded to Prescott in a way no one could’ve predicted. He is on pace to have one of the best years for a rookie quarterback in league history, and I believe he’s a legitimate candidate for MVP. Romo’s not about to accept a full-time backup role in the NFL, but in the short-term he wanted to do right by his team and Prescott.
“I think you all know something magical is happening to our team,” Romo said. “I’m not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction. I think Dak knows that I have his back and I think I know that he has mine.”
I was a Cowboys beat writer for the Dallas Morning News when Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe six games into the 2006 season. The city fell in love with the swashbuckling young quarterback who had gone undrafted out of Eastern Illinois in 2003. Only a year before, I had watched Romo the backup quarterback strike out repeatedly while trying to secure phone numbers from women at an Uptown bar. (He once asked in ’04 if my wife and I might set him up with someone). By the end of the ’06 season, he was dating country music star Carrie Underwood before transitioning to Jessica Simpson. That’s why Romo’s in a better spot to relate to Prescott than just about anyone.
I’ve seen first-hand how ridiculously competitive Romo can be at all sports, so what he did Tuesday wasn’t easy. He’s accepting that only an injury to Prescott would place him back in the starting role.
So what will become of the 36-year-old Romo now that he’s officially conceded? I recently saw one of Romo’s friends quoted in a Bleacher Report story saying he thinks Romo wouldn’t play at all if he couldn’t play for the Cowboys. I think that’s a load of bull. If Peyton Manning can find another place to play after Indianapolis, I think Romo can bring himself to put on a different uniform. In fact, Manning’s former team, the Broncos, could be a great fit. The Broncos aren’t sure when rookie Paxton Lynch will be ready to start. Scouts told me leading up to the draft that Lynch would’ve benefited from another year at the college level, and I think that’s been validated. Romo idolized Broncos general manager/legend John Elway nearly as much as he did Brett Favre while growing up in Wisconsin. He would also be reunited with his former head coach Wade Phillips and teammate DeMarcus Ware.
There’s also the cringe-worthy prospect of Romo ending up with the Washington Redskins since they haven’t made a decision on Kirk Cousins’s future. That’s where former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded late in his career, though Romo surely hopes his final act goes much better than McNabb’s did in Washington.
The fact the Vikings just sent a first-round pick to the Eagles for middling quarterback Sam Bradford certainly bodes well for the Cowboys. The roughly $14 million Romo is set to make next season isn’t a prohibitive number in a league where teams are so desperate for decent quarterback play. Romo would obviously prefer the Cowboys just release him like the Colts did with Manning. What’s working against him on that front is that his health isn’t in quite as much doubt as Manning’s was at that point in his career.
Other teams that might covet Romo are the Bears, Jets, and 49ers. I’m not including the Cleveland Browns because the Jones family respects Romo too much to do that to him. In a trade scenario, they will try to put him in the best-possible situation. They don’t want to face him twice a year in Washington, so I’d downgrade that as a trade possibility. It will also be fascinating to see whether the Cardinals might think Romo would be an upgrade over another aging quarterback, Carson Palmer. As for the Houston Texans? It’s hard to imagine them already giving up on Brock Osweiler—unless you’ve been watching him play.
Romo isn’t going to stay with the Cowboys as a backup quarterback. He’s just not wired that way. And it wouldn’t be a good thing for Prescott, either. As Jerry Jones is fond of saying, it’s time to burn the boats and hand this thing to Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott.
It truly is a magical thing that’s taking place, and for now Romo’s only along for the ride. He’s been in Prescott’s shoes—and that’s why he knows when it’s time to hang ‘em up.