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Lenny P. takes on Romo's contract

Lenny P. offers the most complete and even-handed account yet of the Cowboys ongoing dilemma of what do about Tony Romo’s new contract. He also lets us in on a little of the behind the scenes maneuvering that is going on. He leads with the story of Romo’s agent, Tom Condon, meeting with Stephen Jones in March. They discussed Romo’s contract and their desire to get something done. But after that meeting, the two sides haven’t discussed the matter in any substantial way. Lenny P. explains why:

Why so? Because neither side picked up the telephone, each assuming the other would make the opening gambit, and so negotiations toward an extension lay fallow for more than two months. Or until Condon, has confirmed, called Jones this week to remind him of their March dialogue and to revisit the subject.

The idea was to get something done before training camp, but that seems unlikely now. For whatever reasons, both sides are reluctant to throw out the first numbers. Condon just this week finally reached out to the Jones’ family in an attempt to get something going.

The Cowboys have cast their lot with Romo, even though they could always start over if Romo doesn’t work out. But the idea of grooming a new, young QB is surely something Jerry Jones does not want to do at this point. He would rather use his two first-round picks in next year's draft to pursue someone like Darren McFadden.

The Cowboys would be elated if they can get Romo signed at a reasonable price and he has a year in 20007 that solidifies his status as the Cowboys franchise QB. That’s the trick. As I’ve discussed before the Cowboys are banking on Romo, but they just don’t seem to be sure how much bank they want to put behind that banking.

Is Romo the QB that burst onto the scene in the Carolina game and turned the Cowboys mediocre season around during a five game stretch were he was absolutely phenomenal? If that’s the guy Romo will be in the future, then almost no contract and guaranteed money would be too much. But realistically, it would be hard for Romo to match that short stretch on a consistent basis. He doesn’t really need to match it; he just needs to prove that he can be close to that good, week in and week out.

On the other hand, he didn’t have the best end of the season, putting a little doubt into the Cowboys brain-trust as to exactly what they have in the young gunslinger.

He was 4-1 in his opening five-week stretch as a starter, completing 71.2 percent of his passes, recording a 115.6 quarterback rating, and throwing 10 touchdown passes as opposed to only two interceptions. But over the second half of his 10-game stretch as a starter, Romo's passer rating plummeted nearly 40 points, to 77.4, for an overall 95.1. He had six touchdown passes and eight interceptions and the Cowboys won just two of those five starts.

In the Cowboys' bitter wild-card round loss at Seattle, it was Romo's ham-handedness on a placement kick that everyone recalls and cringes over. But his performance as a thrower was pretty bad, too. He completed 17 of 29 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Not bad for a kid making the initial postseason start of his career. But notable is that Romo had just one offensive series all night in which he completed more than two consecutive passes. And he didn't exactly light it up against a Seattle pass defense that was beat up and struggling.

The late-season slippage might have been like a pitcher struggling in his second time through the lineup, since teams that faced Romo later in the season had a more extensive body of work to scrutinize. More than likely, the disparate numbers were just a function of a young quarterback experiencing the roller coaster ride of being a first-time starter.

Here’s where the problem lies for the Jones family. If you wait until you can get a better evaluation of Romo, he might turn in a spectacular season that jacks up his asking price. If you don’t get him signed by season’s end, then you’re looking at paying up with the prospect of his free agency looming. That could end up being a very expensive wait. If Romo waits to test the market, the price will go even higher. Then you’re looking at either paying him what he wants, or placing the franchise tag on him and really paying up for one year and probably leaving Romo a little disgruntled.

The flip side is the possibility that Romo is no more than an average starter in the league, and if you pay him a big contract with a lot of guaranteed up front money before 2007, then you have really put the franchise in a bind.

So it truly comes down to how much belief the Cowboys have in Romo’s abilities, and how much Jerry is willing to gamble in trying to save some bucks at Romo’s expense.

Tony Romo, on the other hand, may be served better by not getting a new contract re-worked. He wants to play in Dallas and probably thinks the Cowboys will lay out the big bucks for him at the negotiating table. But if the Cowboys haven’t aggressively approached this situation so far in the offseason, they might be tipping their hand that they are content to do a little more evaluation before they decide what to pay Romo.

But we all know Romo to be an extremely confident guy. He believes in his abilities and probably sees a very bright future for himself. So if he’s willing to take that risk and go into 2007 without a new contract, he could hit the jackpot by playing well this season.

My guess is that the Jones’ will end up opening serious negotiations with Romo’s agent over the next month or so. But they might not be willing to pay what Romo would like at this point. So if Romo is not inclined to give the Cowboys a "thanks for staying with me and giving me a chance" discount, then he would be playing for the big money over the course of the 2007 season.

Hat tip to longhorn for alerting me to the Lenny P. article.

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