Touching as Jerry Jones’ loyalty to Tony Romo is, it’s misguided.
Giving Romo his old job back has the potential to disrupt the Dallas Cowboys this season and would definitely hurt them in the long run. By sticking with rookie Dak Prescott and parting ways with Romo in the offseason, Jones would have the money to overhaul the Cowboys’ defense — the one thing keeping Dallas from being a Super Bowl contender.
Of course it’s unfair that Romo should lose his job through no fault of his own. But there’s no room for sentimentality in the NFL, and the reality is that his history, along with Prescott’s performance in his absence, has made Romo expendable.
He has played just two regular-season games since Week 2 of last year, when he broke his left collarbone for the first time. If you count the preseason, he’s broken a bone in three of the past five games he’s played.
If he’s already showing signs of fragility at 36, he’s only going to get more breakable as the years pass.
This isn’t Tom Brady the Cowboys are waiting for, either. Yes, Romo is a good quarterback, one of the better ones in the league. But the Cowboys have made the playoffs just four times since he became the starter in 2006, and their record in those games is a dismal 2-4. Their last appearance in the NFC title game was back in 1995, which was also the last time they won the Super Bowl.
And speaking of Brady, imagine how different the Patriots’ fortunes could have been had Bill Belichick been loyal to the franchise quarterback with the massive, long-term contract when Drew Bledsoe returned from an injury in 2001. Or, in the way the Patriots measure time, four Super Bowl titles ago.
Prescott might not get Dallas to the Super Bowl this year — again, that defense. But the maturity and savvy with which he’s played in leading 4-1 Dallas to the top of the NFC East, as well as the rapport he’s developed with Ezekiel Elliott, make it clear that those two, not Romo, are the future of the Dallas franchise.
Prescott’s 69% completion rate ranks fifth among starting quarterbacks and, at 155 attempts and counting, he is closing in on Brady’s record for starting a career without an interception. He’s averaging a respectable 8 yards per pass — and that’s without having Dez Bryant the last two weeks.
Putting Prescott back on the shelf does nothing for his development, even if it’s just for the second half of this season.
And Prescott wouldn’t be the only one being held back if Jones insists on living in the past. The six-year, $108 million contract Romo signed in 2013 might as well be dead weight, preventing the Cowboys from shoring up holes they have elsewhere on their roster. (Again, that defense.)
By cutting or trading Romo in the off-season, the Cowboys could free up anywhere from $5 to $14 million next year. But that balloons to more than $20 million in savings in both 2018 and 2019, the last year of his contract.
That’s a lot of money that could be thrown at free agent cornerbacks and safeties. Or they could do what Seattle did, signing Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas to big deals when Russell Wilson was still under his cap-friendly rookie contract.
Callous as it sounds, Romo’s injury gives the Cowboys an opportunity to become a better team. But that will require Jones to embrace Dallas’ future rather than cling stubbornly to its past.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.