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Cowboys Hot Topic: When Will Tony Romo Return?

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He is finally practicing, but the date for his return just keeps slipping back.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys
His time is coming - but when?
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: As discussed in this post, we had a few more Romo vs. Dak posts in the queue, this one and one later today. We’ve heard the suggestion of moving on to some other subjects, and we will. But this is quality work and should be read.

The plan for the Dallas Cowboys after Tony Romo was hurt in preseason was to just try and stay reasonably competitive while he recovered, and then hopefully climb back into the playoff picture. In August, the thinking was that he could possibly be ready after the bye week. That was seen as the target for his return. Would he be rushing it? There was some concern, but the belief was that the team could not afford another lost season like 2015.

And then Dak and Zeke and a little Rod magic happened. Dak Prescott has set the NFL world on its ear by leading the team on a six-game winning streak that has the Cowboys sitting all alone in first place - not just in the NFC East, but the whole conference. Ezekiel Elliott has become the league’s leading rusher, and given Dallas a balance on offense that has kept any team from completely stopping the Cowboys since the one-point loss in the season opener. And Rod Marinelli and his assistants have somehow gotten this suspect crew of defenders to be the seventh-ranked scoring defense in the league.

Rush Romo back? Not hardly. Now the question has become how long will the team wait.

This has been the genesis of a controversy over whether Romo should return at all, given the way the team just keeps winning with Prescott. But despite the many fans and media members who argue fervently to turn the keys to the team over to the rookie permanently, that is not a likely option for the staff. If Romo can get completely healthy and in shape, his experience and superb skill are what the team wants to ride into the playoffs. With the way the rest of the NFC is collectively slumping, there is suddenly an amazingly realistic chance for the Cowboys to go all the way to the Super Bowl. The only team that is universally seen as being superior to them is the New England Patriots, who would appear to be the most likely AFC representative in the championship.

Now Romo can be given all the time needed to get himself back into shape (the healing part is apparently complete). Obviously, he would need to play some games before the playoffs to get all the rust off. Timing and rhythm will going to be somewhat different with him, and he is not the same in the pocket as Prescott, who is very good running the ball when needed. But when does the team make the move? It should set his return before the last start for Prescott, to remove any hint of pulling the rookie because of a bad performance (should one occur). The next game against the Cleveland Browns has been ruled out for Romo, making the Pittsburgh Steelers the first game he could come back. However, there is no indication that the team is even tentatively planning on that. Jerry Jones spoke at length on this, and gave no hint that the team had a specific game in mind.

“I know that Tony’s making a lot of progress,” Jones said. “His strength is a key area. His back area is stronger than it was at any time last year after he had an early injury on his shoulder. All of that bodes well for us. I don’t think that unquestionably Tony is going to be ready to go at some point near the end of the year, and we’ll be able to evaluate things at that time.”

It always requires a little translation to figure out what Jones really is saying, but in this case, no one seems to have a good read on when Romo might be back.

Still, it is hard to believe that the meticulous Jason Garrett would not be looking at the situation with the rest of his staff and trying to figure out the best timing here. And there may be a game that makes a lot of sense.

Those games mean less because the in-conference record is more important when you get to tie-breakers. That Thanksgiving game against Washington starts a six game stretch run against all NFC teams, including the rematches with all three NFC East rivals. That may be the perfect time to bring Romo back in front of the national audience. This would give him six games to hone his skills, or for the team to find out he is simply not able to go and put Prescott back in charge (which all should fervently hope is not the case).

It also means that Romo would not have to go through the short week of preparation for the game. He would be personally preparing for his start the week before, and short weeks are not good for him in any case.

And don’t discount the fact that the Thanksgiving game is a big stage.

Now, Jesse Holley may be more cynical about Jerry Jones than is warranted, but there is no doubt that Romo’s return would create a lot of extra interest in the game - at a time when the NFL is fighting sagging ratings across the board. This would only be a minor consideration, if at all. But it would probably make the league happy.

The real question is what would be best for both Romo and the Cowboys, and just about every aspect makes Thanksgiving the best current option to put the veteran back on the field. There will probably be no official word until the week prior to whichever game is finally chosen, but that is coming. It makes no sense to go into the playoffs with a quarterback of Romo’s proven ability on the sidelines, barring real struggles when he does take the field. What the team needs is a time to bring him back when he has enough practices and further conditioning to be really ready, but still have the time to see if he still has the old Romo magic or not.

Six games to go in the regular season would seem just about perfect to find that out without any real risk for the team.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB