The Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback, Tony Romo, is at the top of his game and is without a doubt a top five quarterback in the NFL. Even though he is 34, Peyton Manning is 38, Tom Brady is 37 and Drew Brees is 36, and only Peyton Manning is being discussed in terms of getting too old to be effective. And even then Manning was playing with injuries that slowed him down last year and his age may not be the reason he may not return, but rather people are wondering if he still wants to play.
Brett Favre played 20 seasons and retired at age 40, so while realistically we can't expect Romo to play much more than six more years, Romo, Brady and Brees could still be playing into their early 40's. Steve DeBerg, Warren Moon, and Vinny Testaverde all played until they were 44. (While it is true that George Blanda played until he was 48, he was used as the kicker for the last 9 of those seasons.)
This means that Romo's window is 4-10 years, with four being very realistic and 10 years being extremely optimistic. And with that background, here is the main or first dilemma. When should the Cowboys draft a quarterback and start to groom him?
There appears to be three basic scenarios that are possible, so let's examine all three of them.
The rookie contract for all rookies is four years (the exception being the teams can take an option for the fifth-year on first-round picks). If you draft a quarterback and then groom him for those four years, if he becomes good but Romo is still the better quarterback, do you then give the backup a second contract which is usually a very big contract and then have too much money allocated to the quarterback position?
If you pick a quarterback in the first or second round, then that pick is not being used for some position of need and it is not getting the maximum use during the period of transition, so picking a quarterback in the early rounds is probably something you might not do in this scenario. We have seen where the quarterback position is one of the biggest gambles in terms of being a good bet to be the value that was hoped for.
If you pick a quarterback in the later rounds in this scenario, then you could be wasting that pick since you are not really giving the most important position the best chance to be the franchise quarterback.
Wait until Romo starts showing signs of decreased effectiveness and then draft a quarterback? This is the scenario that the Cowboys seem to prefer at this point in time. If you wait as long as you can, then you can afford to spend a top pick on that position and hope to get one of the better ones available.
Draft a quarterback three years from now and if he gets to be good enough, then let him take over once Romo's contract expires. Joe Montana was replaced by Steve Young in a similar way, and Emmitt Smith was not re-signed even though he was not completely done either.
This is the same as the first scenario except for what round you pick him, and then even if Romo is still the better quarterback when we are at the end of his replacement's contract, if his replacement is good enough, you perhaps go ahead and make the change. Or you could extend Romo for one or two more years and bite the bullet on having too much allocated to that position for one or two years and then make the change.
It Is All In The Details:
No matter what time frame you pick to draft a quarterback, you are faced with the additional dilemma of how high do you pick him?
Keep in mind that while the quarterback position demands a lot of measurables to be in the upper end of the spectrum, with accuracy being the most important, the quarterback position also demands the intangibles be the best and that is where the real gamble shows it's ugly head.
Take Johnny Manziel for example, he has an extremely good accuracy grade, but the ability to hit the 15 yard out on a rope is average at best and that is also a very much needed trait. The biggest concern for him and other quarterbacks that are picked early in the draft is the leadership trait and the "desire to be the best" trait. This is where Manziel falls short by a mile. To be the best requires you to be the first one to work, and the last one to leave. It requires you to study film away from the facility. You have to eat, sleep, and drink football and be thinking about every tiny advantage that you can gain.
You have to want to know all the x and o's that the coaches can cram down your throat, and Manziel wants to eat, sleep, and drink something other than football, and it can be seen that he has an "entitlement" mentality that causes him to think that his talent will get him by since it always has before.
These are the things that make the quarterback replacement for the Cowboys a huge dilemma. When to pick one, and how to insure that he will be the "RKG" and want to eat, sleep, and drink football instead of something else.