Thinking about trading in that old Reebok screen printed Terrell Owens jersey for a shiny new Nike stitched number? Well Cowboys fan, it’s time to bite the bullet and finally get a Tony Romo jersey because you’ll get a good three years wear out of it, at least. That’s right, like it or not, Tony Romo is your quarterback for the next three years.
On Friday afternoon, Romo signed a seven year deal that has a maximum value of $119.5 million. As Good Friday’s go, Romo had a pretty good Good Friday. What’s most important about this deal is not the largely back loaded figure of $119.5 million; it’s the figures relating to the first three years of Romo’s extension. If Tony Romo walks out of Cowboys Stadium in Week 17 next season having thrown 10 touchdowns and 30 interceptions on the season, and lead Dallas to a meager 3 wins, guess what; I can guarantee he’ll be suiting up again in Week 1 of the 2014 season. Guarantee.
If Romo is cut before the 2014 season, he counts for $41,681,000 in dead money against the Cowboys salary cap. $41,681,000! That’s a third of the salary cap to a player that wouldn’t even be on the roster (the cap currently stands at $123 million and doesn’t figure to get past $124 million until after the 2015 season). By guaranteeing Romo’s 2013 and 2014 base salary, the Cowboys have made it certain that Romo suits up for Dallas for another two seasons at the very least. So as I said above, if Romo players so abhorrently terrible next year that Dallas becomes the second team in history to go 0-16, there’s not a damn thing they can do about it heading into 2014. As not-learning-from-history goes, this is up there with the best of them. Only a season ago, then-Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum did something similar with Mark Sanchez after New York flirted with Peyton Manning in free agency. To patch up Sanchez’s bruised ego, the Jets guaranteed his salary for the 2013 season. After Sanchez stunk it up in 2012, the Jets couldn’t sever ties from Sanchez and move on because he would account for $17,153,125 in dead money against their cap; a number that’s unpalatable and nye-on-impossible to work with for teams in the best of cap situations, let alone the Jets and their dismal state of affairs. Consequently, the Jets enter the 2013 season with a lame duck head coach and a lame duck quarterback all because they made a fatal mistake in locking themselves into something they couldn’t get out of. The Cowboys have done the exact same thing with Romo except they might have put themselves on the hook for a third season as well…
If Romo is cut before the 2015 season, he counts for $19,908,000 in dead money against the Cowboys salary cap. For an organization that seemingly finds itself in the midst of a cap quagmire year-on-year, I find it highly unlikely that Dallas would be able to swallow that type of figure in 2015 making it inevitable that Romo is a Cowboy for three more seasons. What’s worse is, not only have Dallas made it almost impossible to move on from Romo for three seasons, they’ve made things extremely difficult to plug in people around him. Romo’s cap figure in 2014 is $21,773,000 and in 2015, its $25,273,000. That’s ludicrous. I can only assume that Jerry Jones found his $2.7 billion net worth in a bush because the way he handles the Cowboys’ salary cap situation is far from good business practice. You’d at least think if he’s going to tie the Cowboys into something for three seasons there would be some relief in the form of workable cap figures each year. Nope. Dallas is not only stuck with Romo, he’s going to have to shoulder the load on his own from the looks of things as it’ll be very difficult to put in pieces around him when Romo is walking about with, as it stands, the highest and second highest cap figures in the NFL for 2014 and 2015. Fine, I accept that the rookie salary cap means the Cowboys will have cheap labor coming in through the NFL Draft but do you really have faith that the owner, president and general manager that is Jerry Jones will make the right decisions on draft day? Jerry Jones even said himself that he would fire himself from the general manager position if he wasn’t Jerry Jones.
Right, enough on Jones and enough on the intricacies of Romo’s contract. Romo’s on field performance. The first stat that most Cowboys fans will point to is 1-6 in elimination games, including a 1-3 record in the post-season. Admittedly, the most important win column in the NFL is not September wins, nor win accrued in October, November and December; it’s wins in January and February that count for most (ask Peyton Manning). With only one win in January and nowhere near a sniff of a win in February, that’s a lot of dollars for what amounts to little to no success in the crunch time when the chips are down. Obviously complete blame for all those defeats in do-or-die games can’t fall solely at the feet of Tony Romo – there is after all 53 men on an NFL roster – but it is very difficult to defend Romo’s performance at times.
Romo’s performance in the regular season on the other hand is a different ball game. Over the last two seasons, Romo’s performance has been unquestionable. Football Outsiders advanced stats provide a value for a quarterback’s performance and adjust them accordingly to take into account the situation and level of opponent. Under their statistical analysis, Romo performed like the 4th best quarterback in the league in 2011 - behind only Brees, Rodgers and Brady – and 6th best in 2012 behind the aforementioned as well as Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan. Under that magnifying glass, Romo’s contract is outstanding value, especially when you consider Joe Flacco ranked 14 in 2011 and 17 in 2012 in the same statistic and just signed a six year $120.6 million deal (I know, he won the big one etc etc). Even if you look at the traditional statistics, Romo still performs like one of the top quarterbacks in the league during the regular season. Over the last two seasons, Romo has thrown for 9,087 yards, 59 touchdowns, 29 interceptions and has a completion percentage of 65.95%. Albeit it would be better if the interception figure was lower but Romo has shown time and time again that he can play among the league’s best.
All in all, as with most of these things, we won’t know whether Dallas has made a mistake until all is said and done. If Romo brings the Cowboys’ Super Bowl tally to 7 over the course of the next few years (it’s currently at 5), we’ll all look mighty stupid for criticizing a no-doubt very smug Jerry Jones. Romo needed an extension, that’s undoubted. Not only had Romo performed (for the most part) like he needed one, but before his extension his cap figure for next season was $16.8 million and the Cowboys had only $102,000 free in available space. Romo’s new deal means he’ll only carry a cap hit of $11.8 million in 2013 so Dallas has earned itself $5 million in relief this season which will be put to good use signing draft picks. Nevertheless, what the Cowboys have gained this season, they’ve lost fourfold over the next three seasons. Irrespective of Romo’s past performances, the dollars and remuneration over the first three years of his extension make it a bad deal from the outset. He’s uncuttable, regardless of how poorly he might perform, and his yearly cap figure is astronomical making it very difficult for the Cowboys to maneuver and keep under the salary cap. He hasn’t performed when it’s mattered most and hasn’t necessarily shown that he’s capable of performing in the clutch going forward. The old saying in the NFL is that you don’t get paid for what you’ve done, you get paid for what you will or might do; from the looks of things, Jerry Jones has every faith that Tony Romo can land the Dallas Cowboys another Super Bowl victory. For Jerry’s sake, let’s hope he’s right or Jerry Jones might have to fire Jerry Jones.