You will not find a person on this planet who wishes Tony Romo well more than I do. He has been one of the greatest football players I have ever seen and, from everything that I can see, one of the best public individuals, too. People should be pointing to Romo and telling their children "that’s how you do it." The world would be a much better place.
But none of that should factor at all into what the Dallas Cowboys decide to do with him. While they could cut him loose and let him make his own choices as a favor to him, they really should not do that. While NFL history does have several examples of franchise quarterbacks moving for relatively low value, the circumstances around this year need consideration.
Most important is the Cowboys’ salary cap situation. The answer here is that it is not an issue. The Cowboys clearly intended to keep Romo on the roster for 2017 before the emergence of Dak Prescott. While they are currently (according to overthecap.com) $11 million over the 2017 cap, they have a number of moves available to them which put them in a very reasonable situation in short order without touching Tony Romo’s contract. The $5 million he could potentially save them is useful, but not necessary. The possibility of a June 1st cut is also out there, but if I’m the Cowboys, I’d prefer to take the hit now and not in 2018 where Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Anthony Hitchens, and DeMarcus Lawrence all await free agency simultaneously.
But what can’t be underestimated is the value of a top notch back-up. The Vikings, Raiders, and Dolphins all suffered for losing their quarterback last year, and we’ve seen other teams, including our own, lose seasons to injuries at the quarterback position. Not just the obvious 2015, but even quality backups like Kyle Orton and John Kitna were not enough to save Dallas seasons, and, in 2008, one victory from Brad Johnson against the 2-14 Rams might have saved the season. $5 million in cap space is worth it to have insurance against not being next year’s version of the Raiders. Dallas absolutely does have a reason to hold on to Tony Romo that goes beyond the wish-fulfillment scenario of him retiring here to coach.
So what is he worth? Well Cleveland wanted a second-rounder for Josh McCown. Certainly Romo is worth more than him. Some point to Sam Bradford’s trade value last year. Others will say Bradford is much younger, which is true, but he’s also much worse a quarterback and has been a significant injury risk himself, so perhaps that is not too far off after all. But people will say that Minnesota was over a barrel and Cleveland thought Dallas was as well. But this is just more incentive for Dallas to wait until the right opportunity comes along. Franchise quarterbacks are a rare thing and having one in your pocket should not be tossed aside lightly.
The people speaking to the inflated values of Bradford or McCown are correct, though. The market will set the value and what Dallas can get for Romo depends on who is bidding. So, the first question is "how many teams need a quarterback and how many might be looking to improve?"
Need a QB: Jets, Browns, Texans*, Jaguars, Broncos*, Rams, 49ers
Might want to improve: Dolphins, Bills, Bengals, Chiefs*, Vikings*, Bears, Cardinals*
I believe teams marked with an asterisk become immediate Super Bowl contenders with Romo at the helm. But what I believe isn’t important. Do they believe it?
There’s no way to know, but all that needs to happen is for two of these asterisk teams to feel that way and you have a bidding war. We haven’t really seen a bidding war for a franchise quarterback before. It could get into scary territory.
Why do I say we only need two teams? Because the 2017 quarterback class is getting roundly panned. Walterfootball.com only has one quarterback rated with a pure first-round grade. These teams are not going to draft someone to come in and carry them. But as ugly as the draft list is, the free agent list is even worse. You have Kirk Cousins, who the Redkins will either sign or confirm as the next Brock Osweiler (beware quarterbacks that are allowed to walk after a successful season). Then the next guy on the list is... Case Keenum? Shaun Hill? Matt McGloin? Any of those guys inspire you?
No, this is a unique situation. There are a number of teams looking for salvation at quarterback, and there’s only one guy out there who is anything like a proven commodity. And he happens to be fourth all-time post-merger in passer rating, yards per attempt, adjusted, net, and adjusted net yards per attempt, and tied for second in touchdown percentage with Peyton Manning. This is a unique opportunity for Dallas and they should not waste it. It’s not like early 90s San Francisco with Joe Montana and Steve Young both insistent on starting, or mid 2000s Green Bay with bad blood between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Nor is it like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, where injury concerns made the teams leery of spending large amounts of guaranteed money -- Romo would come with no guaranteed money and, unlike those men, his injuries do not come with attendant concerns of whether he can actually continue to throw a football. We've seen him do it.
Furthermore, Tony and Dak have shown that they co-exist well and put the team first, so Tony has real value to Dallas and they have no need to get rid of him.
As a post script, one dark horse possibility: I have publicly said that I am quitting the team if they trade Tony to Cleveland, but that was more a joke than anything. Cleveland has some interesting young talent and a ton of draft picks. With a weak 2017 quarterback class, Cleveland could use those picks to bolster its young talent, trade one of them for Romo, and use its multiple high 2018 picks on what they could reasonably hope to be a better quarterback class. In 2017, they have three picks in the top 33 (two in the top 12), and four in the top 52. They could trade one of those to Dallas along with, say, pick 128 (or one of their anticipated fourth-round compensatory picks) and still put a sizeable talent addition on their roster through the draft. Not an unreasonable possibility. Though I shudder to think of Romo at the end of that infamous jersey, perhaps he could be the end of said jersey. If I was Cleveland, I’d think about it.