With His Team On The Ropes, Jerry Is Willing To Gamble On Tony Romo, Even To The Bitter Death
The names of Tony Romo and Jerry Jones have been an inseparable pair in recent sports headlines. Tony because of recurring misfortune, and Jerry because, well, making headlines is a personal fascination of his. Tony has a collarbone problem. Jerry has a mental problem. This is Valley Ranch’s version of General Hospital, a long-standing football soap opera replete with ingenious plots, perpetual heartbreak, and unfailing redundancy from corporate big-wigs.
From the latter category came yesterday’s breaking news, a bulletin so bold as to spit in the face of health, history and the very star employees are said to represent. According to countless confirmed reports, the 3-8 Dallas Cowboys are NOT placing their franchise quarterback, the aforementioned Mr. Romo, on injured reserve… in the hopes that he will be healthy in time for the playoffs… [Cue the laughter]
Romo broke his left clavicle for the second time this season in the third quarter of Thursday’s loss to Carolina, and was admittedly shelved for the season a day later. But when the Giants lost to the Redskins on Sunday afternoon in Landover to further water down the division, someone at Valley Ranch had a sudden change of heart.
Could that someone be a certain Somebody? Well, why not?
This, after all, is Jerry’s world, where hope springs eternal, even through the rubble and stench of a division that knows no end to ineptness. Consider the recent timeline: On Thursday, the Cowboys were deader than cold turkey. As of Monday morning, the Cowboys were declared to be alive and well in the NFC playoff race. By the end of Tuesday, Jones had let the entire world know that Tony was warming in the bullpen, preparing to pull rabbits out of hats all the way to Santa Clara in February.
Beyond the fact that it’s virtually impossible to envision this 3-8 train-wreck making it to January, much less advancing past the first weekend of postseason games, Jerry’s latest decision is also lacking in forethought.
For the Cowboys to qualify for the playoffs, they would need to win at least three games over the season’s final five weeks. To accomplish that, replacement quarterback Matt Cassel will have to be more effective through the air than he was throughout his first stint in 2015, when he was winless in four starts. That means further developing a trust with Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley, while also involving Terrance Williams in the passing game. It means reading blitzes better, and checking out of plays that are doomed to fail at the line of scrimmage on a more consistent basis.
If Cassel has the Cowboys at 6-10 or 7-9 at the finish line, you can bet that he’s following the above script.
Why Jerry would want to disrupt that chemistry for the promotion of a quarterback who admitted on Thanksgiving that his three interceptions were a product of rust is beyond you and me. It would also befuddle the minds of two former Cowboys coaches, both of whom just happen to be on Jerry’s exiled list.
Tom Landry was the first Dallas head coach to experience the rust factor in a playoff environment. When Landry watched his 1972 team fall behind San Francisco 28-13 in a Divisional playoff game, Landry did the only thing he could. He put a struggling Craig Morton on the bench, and tossed an exciting young signal-caller by the name of Roger Staubach into the fray for the fourth quarter.
Thanks to a preseason shoulder injury, Staubach had not seen meaningful action since earning MVP honors in Super Bowl VI. Instead of looking discomfited, Staubach’s first passes in nearly a year rocked the Bay into submissive awe as he patented a comeback for the ages, his touchdown pass to Ron Sellers nipping the 49ers in the final minute by a 30-28 final.
Landry decided to start Staubach against Washington in the NFC Championship Game the following week. He later said it was one of his worst decisions. A season’s worth of rust showed up in a large way for Staubach, as the Redskins’ “Over The Hill Gang” defense confused him at every turn in a resounding 26-3 defeat.
A similar situation confronted Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson during the 1991 playoffs. With Troy Aikman down with an injury, Johnson watched as backup Steve Buerelein guided the Cowboys to six consecutive victories, including a Wild-Card conquest of Chicago at Soldier Field. But when Aikman was deemed fit to return the following week, Johnson was faced with a decision. To go with the starter, or the hot hand that got them there?
Johnson ultimately announced that Buerelein would start against the Lions in the Divisional round, a decision that didn’t sit well with Jerry Jones who was bent on promoting the welfare of the team’s franchise quarterback. Johnson couldn’t have cared less what Jones thought about it, just so long as the owner understood that Buerelein would give the Cowboys the best chance to win that weekend.
To avoid any meltdown on Aikman’s part, Johnson explained the reasoning behind his decision to the third-year quarterback. Aikman was fine with it.
Upon returning to his office, Johnson laughed. Now if only Jerry could be this easy to get along with!
On gameday in the Silverdome, Buerelein and the Cowboys were abused at every turn, falling behind 17-3 by halftime. With his quarterback languishing before a vaunted pass-rush and a rowdy Lions fanbase, Johnson put Aikman in for the second-half. As he suspected would happen, Aikman played just as poorly.
Even in a 38-6 defeat, Johnson had stood by his team and his quarterbacks. An unsettling situation had been diffused, and the groundwork for a Super Bowl run the following year preserved.
What Jerry is currently laying the foundation for is another football disaster, not to mention a butchering of Romo’s reputation. As an artist of several hard-to-swallow playoff defeats, Romo is already a suspect figure among local fans stuck on the standard of a bygone era. But the damage of what his next postseason start could do for him goes far deeper than that.
For several years now, there has been talk in quiet corners centering around the notion that Romo has far too much responsibility over the offensive game-plan. That he has been allowed this freedom by the owner himself only complicates matters, making Romo out to be the de-facto chairman of every offensive meeting. As a consequence, coaching roles have become scrambled, which often lends to confusion. It’s this very set-up which, according to some, rankled the likes of backup quarterback Kyle Orton and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, and paved the way for their departures.
Should Cassel carry the Cowboys to the playoffs, only to have Romo take over and lose in the first-round, then Romo likely will be rendered an organizational bully by more than merely a few, a person who put his own desires over that of the team. Romo gambled that his rust would be more effective than Cassel’s best, a pompous outlook indeed.
There will be others still who can look beyond Romo’s presence and see the handiwork of Jerry himself, trying to play the role of the artful visionary one-more time. As he has stated upon numerous occasions in recent months, Jerry wants desperately to win a championship with Romo under center. As evidenced by the signings of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory this past spring, he is willing to do almost anything to see it happen. Even if that means undermining the positive momentum and chemistry the team will have built to get to the playoffs.
Yes, Jerry believes in Tony, even to the death.
There is nothing wrong with delaying the placement of Romo on injured reserve. In the unlikely event that Cassel and the ‘Boys get hot and take the NFC East, then Romo would certainly qualify as a good pinch-hitter at quarterback. But pretending that Collarbone Tony will discard the arm-sling and suddenly transform into a well-oiled gunslinger goes far beyond the realm of reality.
Just ask Tom. Just ask Jimmy.
Don’t ask Jerry, though. His role as a first-rate football stooge has no room for historical perspective, being completely absorbed in a personal art of intrigue defined solely by an empty trophy case, and dust thereon.