The Dallas Cowboys were once known as “America’s team” when the topic was football. From 1991-1999, they missed the playoffs only once and won the Super Bowl three times. But since 2009, they’ve made it to the post season only once, primarily due to the fragile health of the club’s celebrity quarterback Tony Romo.
This season though, there’s a new sheriff in Dallas named Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott, a rookie forced into duty after yet another Romo injury. The twist, as we have all observed, is that Prescott has been nothing short of brilliant. The fourth round pick out of Mississippi State has thrown 23 touchdown passes with a 68.1 overall completion percentage, and has also run for six more scores. In addition, Prescott’s quarterback passing rating (105.6) and pick percentage (0.89) is better than any first year player in modern league history.
So when Romo recovered and was ready to suit up again back on November 15th, Cowboy coaches and owner Jerry Jones decided not to mess with the success of an 8-1 record and stick with Prescott’s hot hand. An NFL standout for more than a decade, Romo was now a backup and it was a tough pill to swallow. But he took it like a man and a true professional.
“Dak Prescott and what he’s done, he’s earned the right to be our quarterback.” said an emotional Romo during a planned press conference. “As hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right.”
Dallas has gone 5-2 since Romo’s return, although the Cowboy’s ugly loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular season finale should be marked with an asterisk. Since Dallas had already clinched a top playoff seed and first round bye, most of the regulars were resting and watching. The good news is that Romo scrapped off the rust and led the offense to its only touchdown in the second quarter. The rest of the game was piloted by Mark Sanchez, who by contrast looked terrible. The former New York Jets hopeful was picked up by Dallas as an insurance policy after Romo went down, and has also seen little action.
Obviously, the Cowboys are the envy of all the post season teams with a pair of coveted offensive generals in Prescott and Romo. In baseball terms, it’s like Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, the two-headed monster in the New York Yankee bullpen. The question that remains moving forward is whether Jerry Jones can afford to retain a second-string quarterback like Romo, 36, who will make at least $14 million next season. Of course, the wealthy Cowboy boss can “literally” handle the payout, but the contract is a nightmare considering the league’s strict salary cap restrictions. Jones has pledged his loyalty to Romo on numerous occasions with plans to keep him in the fold. Nobility aside, it makes more sense from a business standpoint to retain the 30 year old Sanchez as Prescott’s main backup. The veteran’s pact would be modest and Dak seems to have a rapport with Mark on the sidelines, while Tony seems uncomfortable in his role.
There’s no way Jones would simply release Romo without compensation, and alternative scenarios relating to the cap are complicated and certainly handcuff the Cowboys. A trade would be the most logical move because at the very least, Dallas would gain a second round draft pick. Then again, would Romo be willing to leave the only team he’s ever known? This is a man who has eclipsed many team records held by the great Troy Aikman, and has been a four-time Pro Bowl selection. While the decisions are difficult, there could be a solution for all parties involved.
The Denver Broncos, last season’s Super Bowl winner and out of the tournament this year, desperately need a quarterback with leadership qualities. Fans in the Mile High City yearn for a player who at least resembles last year’s legend Payton Manning, especially in dramatic fourth quarter comebacks. In those type of heroics, Romo is top dog. His competitive edge still burns and Denver is a city with a surging Latino population. Tony is known for his charity work off the field and like Sanchez as a Jet, might be driven to learn Spanish. That would please his grandparents, natives of Coahuila, Mexico.
I’m sure Romo would love to be a Cowboy for life and should his team get to the big dance and win, the moment would be treasured. Unfortunately for Tony, the accomplishments of Dak Prescott, only 23, would clearly be magnified and well deserved. The kid is the new face of the franchise, and it’s time for Romo to move on.
I don’t know all the specifics regarding the Denver Broncos and any salary cap headaches, but they are in much better shape than the Cowboys. General Manager John Elway might be willing to make concessions for a proven commodity like Romo in his camp. In the twilight of his career, Manning missed several games in route to the ultimate prize. Romo still has a few years left and the depth to back him up.
I’m sure watching Antonio Ramiro Romo perform in a splash of orange might seem weird to all his fans, but it’s the smart move and a chance for redemption. This is a warrior who can still play, and needs to earn a ring on his own merits. That’s possible with the Broncos, a group on the rebound next year and very much a top contender.
-Esteban “Steve” Randel Cover photo courtesy, apolitical.com; Text photo courtesy, Star-Telegram