It is over. The furious debate about whether Dak Prescott should remain the starter for the Dallas Cowboys or Tony Romo should get his job back ended Tuesday. And it came in a totally unexpected way, with Romo delivering a moving, eloquent, and selfless statement. If you have not seen the video of his brief remarks, follow this link and watch them. Be warned, you better grab some tissues first.
Romo has long been an incredibly brave and resilient player, winning games with a punctured lung and broken bones in his back. But he never displayed more courage than he did in standing before the media and baring his very soul while announcing that his fierce desire to return to the field was less important than the success of the team. There have been plenty of examples of NFL quarterbacks who made it clear that they were less than willing to be supplanted. I don’t know of any case like this, where a player who has such a strong resume and who still clearly believes he can still play at a high level accepted the decision so gracefully.
And in this extremely painful moment for him, he still did all he could for his team. He threw his support behind the man who took his job away from him, and stated that it happened purely on merit. The Cowboys were walking a dangerous tightrope with the quarterback decision. A remarkable chemistry has developed this season as the team has tied and broken records on the way to the best record in the league. With Prescott’s clear and confident leadership playing such a major role, a move to replace him with Romo threatened to disrupt that. And though a strong case can still be made that Romo is still the best quarterback on the team, the difference between what the team was able to do with him or with Prescott was obviously not great, and shrinking with every win. The successful duel with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers was perhaps the most unequivocal demonstration that no challenge was too great for the rookie taken in the fourth round.
That in itself is amazing, as is demonstrated by how the story has gripped the world of the NFL. And the one man who was absolutely crushed by the development saw it, acknowledged it, and before the world, endorsed it. It was the ultimate team play, and the epitome of everything Jason Garrett has tried to instill in his players.
I have to break with the normal style done here and write from a personal viewpoint. I have always been in the Romo camp, and I am not just talking about this season. I firmly believed that for most of the decade he was the starter for Dallas, he was the most important and effective single player wearing the Star. I never could understand those who roasted him over the fumbled field goal attempt, or claimed he was a choker. All I ever saw was a man who battled fiercely every game, and who led the team to success far more often than he cost them a win with a late turnover. For years, he was the primary reason the Cowboys won as many games as they did, and his ability to carry the team on his shoulders two or three times a year likely bought Jason Garrett enough time to get his system in place and find the players to make it work. It is brutally ironic that this season, when the supporting cast that Romo deserves is finally in place, it is all yanked away from him, through no fault of his own. I am awed by his ability to deliver that eloquent and emotional statement. If I had been forced to do that, I would have been draped over the podium, bawling my eyes out. One thing was firmly confirmed for me: Antonio Ramiro Romo is a far better man than I am.
Now, the Cowboys can go forward with no concerns about disrupting the locker room or the rhythm of the team. And they have the knowledge that, heaven forbid, should Prescott be unable to go for any reason, the best backup quarterback the NFL may have ever seen is ready to go in and pick up the reins. And if you doubt that Romo would not go in and play just as hard as if he had been the starter all season, then you clearly have not been paying attention.
But that leaves the question, what would happen if Prescott just had to miss a couple of games? That is a little harder to say, but based on what Romo said, I, at least, believe Prescott would return to his job as the starter. Because that is what Romo said. Prescott is the starter, Romo is the backup, and that is how football works.
We should hope it doesn’t come to that, because not only would it just fire up the whole controversy again (and we all know how much fun that has been this year), it would have to be even more painful for Romo to step back again. And no injury to the future of the franchise would be a good thing.
After this season, what next? There seems to be zero chance of the Cowboys entertaining a competition for the starting job in 2017. It is now Dak’s. And the team can obviously not afford a backup quarterback with a cap hit of almost $25 million. It is completely unbelievable that Romo would want to redo his contract to remain as the backup, either. The team is almost certainly going to have to release or trade him and eat the huge dead money hit. But that is offset to a large degree by having both Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott both on their rookie deals. A cut is a better move than a trade for the Cowboys financially, since they can reduce the dead money to $10.7 million and gain $14 million in cap space by designating him a post June 1 cut. However, they may be willing to accept the nearly $20 million in dead money involved in trading him if they are offered enough. It will be interesting to see what other teams might put on the table.
Retirement would seem unlikely, given the clear desire Romo still has to play. The only way that might be remotely in play is named Candace, his wife. She has seen him battered and broken, and she might encourage him to hang it up to make sure he is able to fully enjoy his family. Still, there seems to be a very small possibility of that being his decision.
The end of his playing days is clearly in sight, however. And he will likely find another role in football when he does hang up his cleats for good if he chooses. Jerry Jones spoke of his potential as an offensive coordinator, and he would likely have multiple teams willing to offer him a job, although he might start out as a quarterback coach (where he would probably be awesome). Most of us would love to see him return to the sideline in Dallas, although it is hard to say how viable that idea is. But the remarkable way he expressed himself might have the networks salivating to bring him on as an analyst, and the money is much better there. The hours are far superior as well. That would likely war with his love of the game, but only he knows which would really be more attractive.
And the moving beauty of that five minute statement opens the idea of a future writing career as well, something that could be done whether or not he goes into coaching or the media. As someone who cobbles together articles here, I am completely awed by how breathtakingly well done that was. He likely ended his days as the starter for the Cowboys not with a bang or a whimper, but pure, unselfish dedication to something bigger than himself.
Nothing, however, was as impressive as the character and humanity that shone through it all. Some of us have always known what an absolute treasure Romo has been in Dallas. Now, most of the football world realizes it as well.