Regardless of your view of Tony Romo, there is no question his time is over in Dallas. As detailed earlier this year, his contract requires Dallas to move on and re-allocate those resources to other areas of the team. And if Tony is going to show the competitive desire he said still burned brightly during his concession press conference earlier this year, Dallas will be doing him a favor by sending him to another team where he can start.
Here’s what we said back in October.
How much will Dallas save by trading Tony Romo?
Potential cap savings. After this year, the Cowboys could save a lot of money by moving on from Tony Romo. Currently, he’s by far the most expensive player on the team, with a cap hit of $20.8 million this year, or more than 13.5% of the team’s total. His cap cost goes up to $24.7 million next season, $25.2 million in 2018 and $23.7 million in 2019.
Dallas can free up this cap cost — turning it into cap value that it could re-allocate to improve other areas of the team — by trading or releasing Tony Romo after this year. The Cowboys would free up at least $5.1 million in 2017 if Tony is traded, cut, or retires after 2016, and almost $49 million more in 2018 and 2019 to use on other players, for a total of $54 million in savings over three years. They would have to eat $19.6 million in dead money if they did so, but that cost could be spread over 2017 and 2018, giving the Cowboys cap resources they don’t currently have. When you consider that the entire cap cost of the Dallas defense in 2016 is $53.8 million compared to $83 million on offense, $54 million could go a long way toward re-balancing the team.
Given how many free agents Dallas has going into the offseason, and the need for cap space to extend core players like Zack Martin, the Cowboys are going to need every dollar they will save by trading Tony Romo.
How Much Will Tony Romo Cost a New Team?
Tony Romo will not be that expensive for any team that acquires him, and they will not be on the hook for any dead money if gets injured again and can’t fulfill his contract. Again, here’s what we said in October.
Tony Romo’s [cost] would be $14 million for any club that acquired him in trade. That’s sixth in the NFL in base salary, but would be 23rd if you look at the 2017 average annual cost for quarterbacks. (Romo’s restructured and signing bonus would be dead money for the Cowboys, but nothing for the acquiring team.)
Romo’s contract, as is, will be pretty manageable, and even downright cheap for any team as long as he stays healthy.
Tony Romo Isn’t The Only Quarterback Who Will Be Available
We’ve established how much the Cowboys will save, and how much Romo will cost a new team. Another question is what other quarterbacks might a QB-needy team tap on the free agent market this offseason?
Bill Barnwell at ESPN had a very good advance take on the market back in October, though his estimates need to be updated. He listed the following quarterbacks who might be moving.
- Colin Kaepernick
- Tony Romo
- Ryan Tannehill
- Jay Cutler
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Jimmy Garoppolo
Of these, the ones who might suppress the market for Romo could be Garoppolo because of his youth, Tannehill if the Dolphins move on, and possibly Jay Cutler, though if the latter two were released, it would open up two potential landing spots for Romo.
Which Teams Might Be a Good Fit for Tony Romo?
Bad teams are not a good fit for Romo because he’s likely to only have a couple of years left, unless he suddenly stays healthy for long stretches. Health, not skill, is what will drive Tony Romo to retire.
The best fit should be a team that is strong except for the quarterback position, much like the Denver Broncos were before they signed Peyton Manning at the end of his career.
Which teams fit the best? Here’s my ranking.
- Houston Texans. Playoff team with a great defense that also likes to run the ball. Brock Osweiler was signed with the hope that he could continue to improve and become a franchise quarterback. The experiment has failed so far, but he played well enough to get them into the playoffs. The only obstacle here is likely Osweiler’s contract, which carries a $19 million cap hit in 2017. The dead money is even worse if they cut him - $25 million next year. Osweiler has a good history of playing behind a better quarterback, and any team acquiring Romo will need a strong backup in case Tony misses some games. Plus, Tony wouldn’t even have to leave Texas.
- Buffalo Bills. The Bills could cut Tyrod Taylor and take a cap hit of less than $3 million. And Tony Romo’s contract of $14 million is cheaper than Taylor’s for 2017. So Buffalo could add Romo for the same cost as Taylor. Seems like a no-brainer. With new coach Sean McDermott coming over from the NFC, it’s possible he’ll want to switch things up on the offensive side as well.
- Denver Broncos. This was the hot choice early on, but rumblings out of Denver suggested the Broncos were okay with Trevor Semien and Paxton Lynch. Now there’s a new head coach who’s a defensive mind, not an offensive one. So he may be less enamored of trying to coach up the young quarterbacks. And the advantage Denver has is several fold. They have already found success with Cowboys’ castoffs in DeMarcus Ware. They have very little committed in cap space to Semien and Lynch. As a first rounder, they have Lynch on the hook for four more years. They’ve done this with Peyton Manning. And they have a great defense, so Romo doesn’t have to win shootouts. What they don’t have is a great offensive line, so Romo may have to keep up his dodging ways.
- Jacksonville Jaguars. Don’t laugh. This team might be turned around very quickly with some excellent quarterback play. Blake Bortles is near the end of his rookie contract, so he’s not expensive. But he’s Mr. Pick Six. Give this team a chance, and it might move up very quickly in a weak division. They also have a new head coach who could be looking to make a change. And with Tom Coughlin as an adviser there, he has a very good handle on how good Tony Romo can be. Romo might not like this destination at first, but Jacksonville was once an AFC title contender.
- Miami Dolphins. Miami might choose to move on from Ryan Tannehill, and add Romo while they draft and develop a quarterback of the future. As with Buffalo, Romo would be cheaper than Tannehill. Matt Moore would give them great coverage if Romo got hurt. Solid defense and running game. Not sure it’s a likely option, but it could make sense.
- Kansas City Chiefs. This may be a bit of a long shot, but it also makes some sense. Andy Reid knows Tony Romo very well from his years in Philadelphia. And the Chiefs offense, as evidenced by their playoff loss to Pittsburgh, seems to always come up a bit short. Could Romo be the Chiefs answer? One big issue is Alex Smith’s contract. It’s a $17 million cap hit, but only $7.2 million in dead money next year. Seems like an either/or choice. Smith has remained much healthier, so keeping him is the surer thing, but it also might keep the Chiefs coming up a bit short.
- New York Jets. This might be the front runner if the team were better. They were in 2015, but this year they imploded to a 5-11 finish. They have Bryce Petty, but he couldn’t stay healthy either, so if it’s not Romo, they are likely to go after one of the other quarterbacks who might be available.
- Others. The Chicago Bears are another weak team in need of a quarterback, but they are likely to look for a longer-term solution. Ditto for the San Francisco 49ers. Arizona? Carson Palmer’s contract will prevent any move there.
To my eyes, there would seem to be several teams that might be very interested in Tony Romo. For Dallas, this would be ideal, as it would tend to drive the price up.
What Might The Cowboys Get In Trade?
The problem here is that Tony Romo’s value depends almost entirely on how healthy he could stay for whatever team acquires him, and this is a complete unknown. Romo is certainly healthy now, and looked fine for the one series teams saw him this year. But he could go down again off a single hit, as has happened several times over the last two years.
In October, we compared him to Sam Bradford.
Potential trade value. In addition to providing cap value to Dallas, moving on from Tony Romo could net the Cowboys players and/or draft picks in trade. A healthy Tony Romo would certainly be tradeable at the end of 2016. Sam Bradford, who has started only 66 of a possible 84 games since he was drafted first overall in 2010, and whose career passer rating of 81.9 is well behind Romo’s 97.1 career rating, netted a first and conditional fourth-round pick in a trade with Minnesota this year that could turn into a second-round pick. Interestingly, Sam Bradford’s salary for Minnesota is $17 million next season while Tony Romo’s would be $14 million for any club that acquired him in trade.... Of course Bradford is just short of 29, while Romo is 36, so it’s hard to get a real bead on Romo’s trade value, but it’s likely to by worthwhile given how relatively cheap he could be for other teams.
If Romo were to stay healthy, his value would be quite high. But how much will teams discount for his health? We will find out in due time. Whatever it is, it will help strengthen the Cowboys.
What About Trading Tony Romo For A Player?
Let me finish with an idea that hasn’t received any play - the possibility of trading Romo, not for a draft pick, but for a player.
In a separate article, we will cover the free agents for the Cowboys, and how many snaps they played in 2016 that Dallas will need to replace in 2017.
The biggest areas of need are secondary, defensive line, and wide receiver. What if Dallas traded Tony Romo to a team with a strong defense that could afford to send back a skilled cornerback or pass rusher? Someone like Aqib Talib from the Broncos, for example. Denver would take a small cap hit in trading him, and Dallas would instantly upgrade their secondary.
The value of this kind of move is that the Cowboys would get an established player at a position of need that they could plug in immediately on a contending team. This is just the kind of player addition that helped both the Patriots (when they added Darrell Revis) and the Broncos (Ware, Manning, and Talib) win a Super Bowl. The trading team would retain their draft picks, which they might value even higher than the player surrendered.
It will be sad for Cowboys fans to see Tony Romo in another uniform, just like it was hard to see DeMarcus Ware go off to Denver. But, it’s going to happen. So the Cowboys might as well make the best of it.