He is sitting around, waiting for a call, as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tries to ink a major trade with another team. He may be sitting for a while. And the trade that gets done may wind up being done by Romo himself, trading his uniform in for a TV microphone.
For years, Tony Romo had been considered to be among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He may well be a future Hall of Famer. And for the right price, any team could have had him. The high price was a big sticking point, as the Cowboys were looking to secure a top draft pick. Romo’s fragility was major issue though, as he missed most of the past two seasons with injuries. But the biggest issue for NFL teams may be related to just what Tony Romo can really deliver. And while fans of the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos are chomping at the bit for that one final piece to the puzzle, that savior QB who can lead them to a championship, some perspective needs to be provided. Romo is not a savior. He is more likely to break your heart.
Tony Romo’s career was launched in a very public way in October, 2006 . Having played college ball at little-known Eastern Illinois, Romo went undrafted but signed on with the Cowboys as a free agent in 2003. His raw potential was obvious to legendary coach Bill Parcells, and Romo made the team as a backup to Drew Bledsoe. And after a couple of years as a reserve, his moment finally arrived in his 4th season. Bledsoe’s performance began to slip badly, and he was yanked midway through a nationally televised Monday night game against the Giants. Enter Romo, who put up some big numbers in the two and a half quarters he played, but the Cowboys still lost. It was a gallant performance. But it also provided a glimpse into a twisted future.
What followed was a decade of mind-boggling experiences. There were plenty of great Romo moments, but they wound up being overshadowed by others that were woeful: tough losses, should-have-beens and Super Bowls that weren’t. Tony Romo’s stellar regular season accomplishments were often followed by playoff game snafus, some of which some can be laid at his feet, some to his teammates, some to his coaches, and some to the refs. There is plenty of blame to go around. Romo’s heroic last-minute drive against Seattle in the 2006 playoffs was a bellwether of things to come. That epic drive should have sent Dallas into the next round. Except Romo bungled the snap for the game winning field goal attempt, a 19-yard chip shot, and the Cowboys lost by one point. Their enchanted season was suddenly finished.
The following year revealed more of the crazy-quilt pattern that has come to define Romo’s career. In another Monday Night game against the Bills, Romo threw a maddening five interceptions, but still managed to lead the Cowboys to two scores in the final 20 seconds to win the game. The Cowboys went 13-3 that year and earned a first round playoff bye. Romo took advantage of the opportunity to fly to Cabo and frolic in the sun with Jessica Simpson, rather than focus on football that week. His sub-par play in the next game was disappointing to say the least, and Romo’s Cowboys were knocked out of the playoffs by an inferior Giants team that the Cowboys had beaten twice that season.
Over time, Romo matured, but some guys just seem to have bad luck follow them like a shadow. He out-dueled Drew Brees in a memorable 2009 regular season game, as the Cowboys defeated the previously unbeaten Saints. New Orleans however, was the team to go on to win the Super Bowl that year. Romo had an epic performance against Peyton Manning in 2013, throwing for over 500 yards against a very good Denver defense. But Romo’s late game interception led to a Bronco field goal that sent the Cowboys down to defeat. Even in his greatest moments, Romo left something to be desired.
But the most prescient could-have-been moment in Tony Romo’s career came in the 2014 playoffs against Green Bay. Trailing late in the game, Romo rallied the Cowboys, and threw a sensational 4th down pass to Dez Bryant. The star wide receiver reeled it in on the one yard line and dove into the end zone. It should have been a legendary come-from-behind victory that propelled the Cowboys into the NFC title game. Instead, the referee decided Bryant did not have full possession as he reached toward the goal line, thus making the pass incomplete, and the Cowboys turning the ball over on downs. You cannot blame that on the QB. But if ever there was a crowning moment to define Tony Romo’s career, that was it. Brilliance, derailed by just one small thing.
So while the Texans and Broncos clearly hunger for an experienced QB, there is a mixed sense of whether Romo is really the guy who will lead them to the promised land. Certainly, he was an upgrade from the Broncos promising-but-green QBs in their fold, and surely the best option for the Texans, who shipped the under-performing and over-compensated Brock Otweiler to Cleveland. There does not appear to be anyone in the draft who could step in and shine right away, although you can no longer dismiss the possibility that another Dak Prescott is lurking somewhere deep in the later rounds.
The draft is a few weeks away, and there are still deals that could be consummated. But QB-hungry teams are now weighing their options. The Broncos are thinking harder about Paxton Lynch. The Texans are taking a serious look at QBs who have 1st round potential. While these playoff-bubble teams may be willing and able to shell out big salary money for a year or two of Romo, they also know he is 36 years old, and hardly in perfect physical condition. No one is keen about spending millions, only to watch their shiny new toy shatter into pieces early in the season.
But Jerry Jones kept talking to people around the league. With his Cowboys set at QB for the next decade, Jones remained hopeful he could still unload his star-crossed hero for a number of high draft picks. The Cowboy owner had publicly set a training-camp deadline for a trade. But a deal for Romo may not get done. No team has bitten yet, and there is a growing feeling that Jones may have overplayed his hand. It is a time-sensitive proposition as well, for as time moves on, the Cowboys will be under increasing pressure to free up cap space. That can only happen by letting go of Romo’s enormous salary. No team needs to carry two elite quarterbacks. And interested teams may be willing to wait Jerry out. Why buy a stock at its highest point if you’re convinced the price will drop in a few months? It is also possible the stock may go off the market of its own volition. Rumors of Romo moving into a TV booth are gaining traction.
Romo is certainly the best QB available. By far. It is unlikely any team will find another QB for the coming season who can come anywhere close to his stature. But the Cowboys’ have been asking for a lot. And the Latin phrase caveat emptor seems appropriate here, as interested teams may be heeding that principle of buyer beware. Tony Romo seems to looks good in many ways. But not in the context of what teams may have to give up to acquire him. And especially not when you take a sober look at those critical past situations, the ones when it mattered most. Romo is a great QB, but not when the pressure is high, and not when a Super Bowl berth is in view. What Tony Romo has delivered most often is heartbreak, and that is a very high price to pay.