Cowboys Need To Distance Themselves From Romo, ‘The Franchise QB’
Ten years ago in the NFL’s northwestern capital city of Seattle, a preseason contest revealed a franchise quarterback on the roster of the visiting Dallas Cowboys. Playing the entire way in the exhibition opener, 26-year old Tony Romo passed for 235 yards and one touchdown while leading Dallas to a 13-3 conquest of the defending NFC champion Seahawks, assuring the watchful Bill Parcells that he was a worthy heir to Drew Bledsoe’s starting position.
A decade later the same two teams met again at the same exact venue, with Romo and the Cowboys offering another tutorial on franchise stability. Romo, on the game’s third play, was hit from behind by Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril while scrambling, leaving the veteran signal-caller writhing in pain from a broken bone in his back on the CenturyLink Field turf, and Jason Garrett moaning in derisive disbelief over on the Dallas sideline.
With the news that came down on Saturday from a Garrett press conference that placed Romo on the injury shelf for the first half of this season should have come the realization that the Cowboys, as an organization, need to distance themselves from the notion that Romo is still their quarterbacking savior. Officially and emphatically, the end of the Tony Romo era happened on Thursday night in upstate Washington. It’s time to move on and get used to life without him.
Romo’s arm, his knowledge of the game, and his elusiveness in the pocket have been the Cowboys’ most valuable asset for the better part of a decade. Of late, injuries have rendered his talents ineffectual and irrelevant.
Romo is expected to return to the starting lineup at or around the midseason point. And that’s as it should be. Whenever he’s deemed medically fit, the coaching staff should play him. He has earned that much respect. But at the end of this season, Jerry and Co. need to have a heart-to-heart talk about future plans, greener pastures, family time and…(gulp) retirement. That’s not being harsh so much as it is realistic.
It’s time for Jerry, Jason, and all front-office bigwigs to face the facts. Romo is a 36-year old quarterback whose health is non-existent, having suffered three major injuries over his last seven quarters of action. The past 45 months have seen Romo suffer four fractures in his back, break his left clavicle twice, and endure one bout with bruised ribs. Should Romo return after this season’s eighth contest at Philadelphia, he will have missed twenty of the Cowboys’ last twenty-two regular season games. Those numbers are far more indicative of a broken-down veteran than a $100 million franchise quarterback.
Romo hasn’t run out of luck so much as he has run out of strength. After years of pulling off a one-man show, Romo is finally buckling under the pressure of carrying the Cowboys on his shoulders. His back, his collarbone, seemingly his entire body, is giving out on him under the strain. No longer can he be the superstar quarterback. No longer can this be considered his team.
Since Romo’s season-ending clavicle injury helped land Wade Phillips on the unemployment line and his team in the NFC East cellar in 2010, the Cowboys have slowly went about acquiring pieces designed to take the load off their quarterback’s shoulders. They rebuilt the offensive line through the draft, selecting three first-round gems in a four-year span. Dez Bryant has been groomed as a franchise-caliber wide receiver, filling the dual-role of big-play/possession target that Romo had grown accustomed to with Terrell Owens.
At running back, the Cowboys have replaced 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year winner DeMarco Murray with Ohio State standout Ezekiel Elliott, whose preseason hype has been unseen around these parts since the days of Emmitt Smith. Jason Witten and Cole Beasley do their part by making life miserable for defenders in the middle of the field.
It is truly ironic that, after assembling so many supportive pieces, Romo’s health should fail him. He has more weapons than any one quarterback has a right to ask for, but can’t stay healthy enough to take advantage of them, no matter how hard he works. In a game centered around hard hits, vicious tackles, and rude table manners, Romo has become as fragile and as pricey as an American Fostoria collection. Football and crystalware do not mix well.
Unlike when Troy Aikman retired after the 2000 season, the Cowboys do have an alternative option to employ. This situation is not nearly as scary as it would have been, say, six months ago. Thanks to their owner. (What would the Cowboys do without Jerry?)
In the manner of a blind Arkansas hog wallowing in the mud for that elusive acorn, Jerry stumbled upon a hidden blue-chip quarterback prospect this past spring whose professional potential had as yet to be discovered by those swamp rats down in Mississippi. Dak Prescott, it turns out, is more than just a spread-option general with the physique of a steroid-free body-builder. Far more.
Shedding those sticky comparisons to another former SEC swamp monster named Tebow, Dak has shown a surprising ability this preseason to operate the Dallas offense from within the pocket. On the way to completing nearly ninety-percent of his passes during the exhibition schedule, Prescott has received rave reviews from Romo and Bryant, among other teammates. He, so it seems, is prepared to succeed at football’s highest level.
He has the supportive coaching staff that Quincy Carter never had under Dave Campo’s regime. He has the athleticism that Chad Hutchinson could only dream about. The arm-strength to embarrass Clint Stoerner. Leadership qualities that were foreign to Ryan Leaf. The consistency that eluded Drew Henson. He has the quick reflexes to make an aging Brad Johnson jealous. The pocket-presence that Stephen McGee never demonstrated. The confidence of teammates in the huddle that Brandon Weeden could never acquire. And the play-making ability that Matt Cassel appeared to have grown out of last season.
In short, Dak Prescott has everything that past Cowboys’ quarterbacking misfits have lacked over the course of the twenty-first century. He also has the tools around him to make his transition into the pros easier than it normally would be. With Dak, the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to thrive in the NFC East. This season and beyond.
Whether Jerry and Co. want to realize it nor not, the Cowboys are a team built to score points without Romo in the lineup. Now is as good a time as any to start doing just that.