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How Far Away Are The Cowboys From Contending Again?

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How many points per game do you think a healthy Romo would have been worth to the 2015 Cowboys?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of training camp this year, I authored a post titled "Can the Cowboys average 30 points scored per game In 2015?" The Cowboys were coming off a 2014 season in which they scored 29.2 points per game, and little did I anticipate that they would average just 16.8 points through 15 games this year. Yet here we are.

On Tuesday, during his weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan, Jerry Jones indicated he believed the Cowboys are closer to contending than their record indicates.

"The bottom line is that I can make you a strong case where you should line them up and go again with your hand," Jones said, via Todd Archer of ESPN.com. "But under any circumstances, you have to do what you have to do. And so just change for change sake? No, you’re not going to have that because I believe that we’re closer than this record indicates."

Such a statement was bound to produce a lot of tired and predictable reactions, as Archer keenly observed in a more recent article:

Jones is delusional, one said on Twitter. Another said Jones had lost his marbles. Another called for a boycott of Cowboys merchandise to wake up Jones. Another came up with the always entertaining thought of firing himself as the general manager.

In this very readable article, Archer goes on to point out that once you "strip away the venom that is always directed Jones’ way," the roster actually looks pretty good, even compared to some of the conference's best teams.

But let's get back to my post from July and Jerry's argument that the Cowboys are closer than their record indicates.

Too much went wrong on offense to simply say that the only difference between last year's 29.2 points per game and this year's 16.8 points per game is a healthy Tony Romo. But how much points per game is a healthy Romo worth?

In 2013, Grantland published an article on the per game value of quarterbacks. For the point values, Grantland interviewed bookmakers and professional handicappers and concluded that elite QBs are worth about seven points per game. At the time, Tony Romo (keep in mind that this article is from before Romo's MVP-level 2014 season) was valued at 3 points per game, though the article contained an important caveat:

Las Vegas bookmaker Mike Colbert makes the case that the value of Matt Ryan [5.5] and Eli Manning [4.5] is inflated by inept backups, while the value of Tony Romo [3.0] and Andrew Luck [3.0] is lessened by extra-capable backups.

We have since learned that Romo is a better QB than the media was willing to give him credit for in the summer of 2013, and we have also learned that the Cowboys had extra-incapable backups this year.

Based on the above, I feel confident in arguing that Romo would have been worth one extra TD per game this season, and perhaps even more. Here's an overview of what the Cowboys record could have been this year, based on how many extra points you assume Romo is worth.

Tony Romo's value
Extra points per game
+5.5 +6.5 +7.5 +8.5 +9.5 +10.5 +11.5
W/L Record 7-9
9-7
10-6
10-6
10-6
11-5 12-4

If Romo indeed would have been worth about an extra TD per game, the Cowboys might have finished the season with a 9-7 or 10-6 record, probably good enough for a playoff spot in the weak NFC East.

But what if the Cowboys had fielded capable backup QBs? Again this is a question of how much such a capable backup would have been worth, but if we assume Romo is worth an extra TD, let's assume a capable backup would have been worth an extra field goal. Interestingly, 2.5 extra points would only have given the Cowboys a 5-11 record, 3.5 extra points per game would have resulted in a 6-10 record. Nothing to write home about, and a good indication that this season, even with capable backup QBs, would have been in the crapper anyway.

Also of note: 11.5 points on top of this year's 16.8 for a total of 28.3 points per game would probably have been enough for a 12-4 record. And that points total would be very close to last year's total.

Jerry Jones probably believes Tony Romo is worth at least one TD more than what the team produced in his absence. As such, his statement that the Cowboys are closer than their record indicates is reasonable. And with a healthy Romo, the Cowboys are certainly contenders again.

Over to you: how many points per game do you think a healthy Romo would have been worth to the 2015 Cowboys?