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Cowboys Free Agency Rumor: Broncos Allegedly "In Driver's Seat" For Tony Romo

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But are they really?

Denver Broncos v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network is reporting that the Denver Broncos "are clearly in the driver's seat" for Tony Romo, assuming he is released by the Dallas Cowboys.

In the video linked in the Tweet above, Rapoport opens with a statement that makes you wonder how seriously you have to take his subsequent statement about the Broncos being in the driver's seat.

Rapoport says the Cowboys "are not going to be able to do anything until after the league year begins" because "they can't actually withstand the cap hit of releasing him now."

There is no polite way of saying this, but Rapoport obviously doesn't have the faintest idea how the salary cap works and what the Cowboys' cap looks like, because the Cowboys can withstand the cap hit of releasing Romo with ease. Rapoport goes on to say that Romo will have to take a pay cut to join the Broncos - all of which makes me wonder whether Rapoport is pushing Denver's agenda here.

Remember, among the chief sources of information prior to free agency: NFL general managers, who are lying, and agents, who are lying even more.

The Broncos have long been linked to Romo, along with every other QB-needy team in the NFL, but a report from Mike Klis, Broncos reporter for 9News in Denver, says the Broncos would only be interested if he is released. That sounds like their "driver's seat" is at the very end of the queue, not the front.

Tony Romo is 37 years old, has had multiple injuries and has only played in four games over the last two seasons. That's a risk that will have to be accounted for in any contract Romo signs, but that can be easily managed.

Wherever Romo goes, he'll sign a contract with a low base salary, possibly as low as the veteran minimum of about $1 million. Additionally, the contract will be heavily incentivized, possibly with a bonus approaching $1 million for every game he starts. That would allow Romo to be paid starter money - but only if he actually starts.

Such a contract would be very interesting from a cap point of view. In the NFL, incentives are classified as "Likely To Be Earned" and "Not Likely To Be Earned". LTBEs count against the cap but NLTBEs don’t. Instead, the NLTBE incentives are applied to the cap retroactively after the season. Also, and importantly for Romo's new employer, NLTBEs are based on the previous year’s performance, per the CBA:

"Any team performance will be automatically deemed to be "Likely to be earned" if the Team met or exceeded the specified performance during the prior League Year, and will be automatically deemed to be "not likely to be earned" if the Team did not meet the specified performance during the prior League Year."

Effectively, any 2017 incentives in Romo's new contract with higher thresholds than Romo’s 2016 individual statistical achievements are automatically classified as NLTBE - and don't count against the 2017 cap.

In Romo's case, that 2016 performance bar would be pretty low as he didn't start a single game. In the contract scenario outlined above, Romo would only count $1 million against the acquiring team's 2017 salary cap, but could get up to $17 million if he starts all 16 games.

The NLTBE option puts every single team in the NFL - especially Houston - back in the driver's seat, and puts the Broncos at the very end of a long queue of teams bidding for Romo's services.

Also (and I'm only adding this because I'm in a feisty mood today) the last team that thought it was in the driver's seat versus Jerry Jones was the San Diego Chargers with their bid for relocation to Los Angeles. They ended up as tenants of the Los Angeles Rams.

So if the Broncos are truly interested in Romo and do sign him, how does that affect Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch? Scotty Payne of SB Nation's Mile High Report explains what that could look like from a Broncos perspective.

It would signal that they want Lynch to sit another year and basically put him on the Brock Osweiler plan. However, with Romo's injury history, I don't think Lynch would have to sit long like Osweiler did. The real interesting thing here is, what do they do with Trevor Siemian? Would the Broncos make their former first-round pick a third-string quarterback and a game day inactive and have Siemian be the backup? Seems unlikely and not a great way to develop your potential future at quarterback. Would they make their 2016 starter a third-stringer the very next year? That seems highly unlikely as well. So that would be a very interesting situation to watch if this does indeed happen.

The Broncos fan base is currently neatly and sharply divided into “Siemianites” and members of the “Lynchmob.” Imagine adding "Romosexuals" to that mix!

Stay tuned.