When Jerry Jones signed Tony Romo to his $108 million contract extension in 2013, the initial reaction from most people in both the media and the general NFL fan base was that the Dallas Cowboys had overpaid another aging veteran, and they would wind up having to eat most of the guaranteed money when Romo was forced to retire, likely due to injury.
There is a saying that winning fixes everything, and now that the Cowboys made it back to the playoffs in the second year of the extension, the perception has changed. Now he is seen as a fairly good investment for the Cowboys. In an article at ESPN (which is behind the paywall, unfortunately) Mike Sando ranks the 18 quarterbacks who have deals worth at least $9 million annually - most of which are worth a good deal more.
The following rankings cover the 18 veteran contracts belonging to players earning at least $9 million annually (all but Brady are north of $15 million, and his deal contains enough guaranteed money to make the annual average misleading). Listed for each player are his rankings among the 18 QBs included in average money per year (APY), true guarantees and three-year APY.
The ranking also includes the three year average QBR (the rating that ESPN uses, not the more common passer rating). APY stands for average per year. Here is how Romo ranks on the list.
Contract ranks: 10th APY, 2nd true guarantee, 9th three-year APY
Three-year Total QBR: 68.0 (5th)
The past season showed what the Cowboys can get from Romo if they balance their offense and reduce his dropbacks enough to minimize the negative plays that have haunted Dallas in the past. He can be a top-five quarterback in that context. Health is a heightened concern, and if the running game falls off without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys might not get good value from their deal with Romo.
The commentary has the usual caveats about the loss of Murray and Romo's back, but overall it shows that the Cowboys have gotten a good value for him with the fifth best QBR rating in the league. And Romo is possibly in the most productive part of his career despite his age. His 82.7 QBR in 2014 was by far the highest of his career, and he is healthier this year than he has been for several seasons. Add in the offensive line that has already gained a reputation as one of the best in the league and just appears to be getting better, and his prospects at least for the next two or three years look very good indeed.
There are certainly some things about the listing to quibble about, like both Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers being ahead of Romo, but he is also ranked ahead of Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, so you can't feel completely bad about this. If Romo can maintain his level of performance in 2015, he will just be more valuable if this ranking is redone next year.
What does become apparent from this is that the Cowboys made a smart move by extending Romo when they did. The price tag for franchise quarterbacks is just going to go up. And as the list emphasizes, there are not enough of those to go around in the NFL. There are players on the list like Alex Smith and Jay Cutler that seem certain to never give their teams the value that their paychecks would justify. And with Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson still waiting on their second contracts, the relative value of Romo's deal will also look better and better if he continues to deliver.
But the thing that this exercise points out is that a quarterback is only a part of the picture, although he remains the most important piece for almost all NFL teams. What the Cowboys have done is to surround Romo with offensive talent that maximizes his value. The offensive line rebuild that has taken place, roughly coinciding with the promotion of Jason Garrett to head coach, has been well documented. He also has a talented wide receiver group and one of the best all around tight ends to ever play the game. If the running back puzzle is solved, this should be another year of offensive excellence. And now the team is making a similar investment in defense. If that starts to pay off, then the Cowboys will become formidable. Contrast this with a team like the Detroit Lions, where they have been forced to focus on defense and the running game because of the issues Matthew Stafford has. They had to forego re-signing Ndamukong Suh at least partly because of the investment in Stafford. He is more of a hindrance. Romo is a complimentary piece for the Cowboys, making the other parts of the team stronger.
There has been a lot of discussion about the risks that the Cowboys have made with players like Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory, and in letting Murray go and not getting a running back in the draft. Every roster move made by an NFL team is a calculated risk. Some are just better bets than others, but none is guaranteed. Over the past few seasons, the Cowboys have been doing better than most of the other teams in the league, as Rabblerousr is showing in his insightful series analyzing the performance of the front office. Dallas is playing it very wisely in both their short- and long-term strategies, and Romo's extension is a major step in the process. Only the performance on the field will give us the actual payoff, but right now, the future has a nice blue and silver tint to it.