Since well before the 2016 Cowboy’s season ended, writers, pundits, bloggers, and fans have all speculated on what will happen with Tony Romo once it became apparent that the team had decided to hitch its wagon to Dak Prescott.
Some hoped that a way could be found for Romo to stay, and even compete in the offseason with Prescott. The Cowboys are not going to do that.
Others argued for keeping Romo as insurance, because the Cowboys would “only” save $5.1 million if they moved him. This was based on a false premise - Romo would actually cost the Cowboys $14 million to keep in 2017 - and therefore didn’t have much shelf life.
A third contingent thought Romo might retire, seeing as his wife is expecting, his injury history, and the fact he’s only ever played for the Dallas Cowboys. The Romo press conference that backed Dak Prescott put a damper on those views, as Romo described his competitive fire as burning as hot as ever.
A fourth view, and one that seems to be gaining a lot of currency in recent days as we approach the start of free agency, is that the Cowboys will simply cut Romo, and do it soon. That may in fact be what happens, but if the Cowboys chose that path before they exhaust other options, they would be fools.
The Cowboys are in the talent acquisition business, not the talent giveaway business
“I’d try not to release [Tony Romo],” said former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells when ask about how he’d handle the current Romo situation in Dallas during a recent interview on ESPNLA 710 AM. “He does represent value. And getting something is always better than getting nothing. Now, I’m sure Jerry Jones owes a debt of gratitude to Tony and that’s all well and good. But he represents an asset to the organization. I would just not give that away for nothing.”
NFL teams do release players quite frequently, especially at this time of year. That’s because either a) they no longer fit in the team’s plans, b) they are too costly to keep, c) the team will save money by releasing them, and/or d) there is no realistic option to securing anything back for that player in trade. The first three of these apply to Tony Romo, but the fourth decidedly does not.
Tony Romo has value
Aging stars and other quarterbacks have been traded several times. Here are four examples.
- Green Bay traded Brett Favre to the New York Jets for a conditional pick that turned into a third-rounder.
- Joe Montana was traded to the Chiefs for the 18th pick in the draft.
- New England traded Drew Bledsoe for a first-round pick the following year.
- Minnesota traded for Sam Bradford, a far less illustrious quarterback, last offseason, giving up a first-round pick and a conditional pick to Philadelphia that could elevate from the fourth round. Bradford may be younger than Tony Romo, but at the time of the trade, he’d never had a season with a quarterback rating above Romo’s career average of 97.1.
- (Side note. Peyton Manning was released because he was due a $28 million roster bonus.)
Yes, Tony Romo has an injury history longer than all but Bradford on this list, but that just suggests his value may be reduced, not eliminated.
As for his contract, any team trading for Romo could renegotiate a deal with him, or they could keep his current deal, knowing they would be on the hook for only that year’s salary, with no dead money repercussions if he was injured again and could not play.
Another way to look at Tony Romo’s value? If he were to stay healthy next season - he would likely be the most impactful free agent to change teams in 2017. That’s how much good quarterbacks are worth. Look what happened to Oakland when Derek Carr went down, or how Arizona melted a couple years ago after Carson Palmer was lost for the season. Quarterbacks turn good teams into contenders. Without them, those same teams are toast.
Because of his injury history, the Cowboys may not be able to leverage a first-rounder, or even a second, in a Romo trade. Yet even a third-rounder might be quite valuable — as that was the round Maliek Collins was obtained in last year. Fourth-rounder? How about Dak Prescott or Charles Tapper? Sixth-rounder? Anthony Brown comes to mind. Whatever the trade return, it will be better than nothing.
The Cowboys are under no pressure to release Tony Romo
In yesterday’s news clips was an article by Todd Archer, in which he cited Jerry Jones making the following point:
For those wondering about a potential trade, Jones has often said a player’s value is at his lowest around the draft, which could hamper a deal.
This may be true. If it is, then it would benefit the Cowboys to wait.
Trading Tony Romo doesn’t have to happen before the draft. Given Romo’s injury history, it’s much more likely that Dallas could get compensation in next year’s draft, as the pick or picks could then be conditional on how Romo performs in 2017. Waiting until after the draft would leave that option wide open.
The benefit to Dallas of moving on from Romo is the cap relief the team will get as a result. But as we detailed here, that’s only likely to be $5.1 million in relief this year. The bulk of the Romo contract savings will come in 2018 and 2019. Dallas has other moves it can make if it needs more cap space to sign free agents while Romo remains on the books. It doesn’t need the 2017 Romo money until much later in the offseason.
Thus, there should be no urgency by Dallas to move on from Romo. Tell suitors he’s available in a trade whenever they are ready to step up to the plate. But they can’t expect to get him for nothing.
Any team that needs a quarterback will want them in the fold sooner rather than later
That leads to a fourth point. Any team that might want Tony Romo to start for them next year isn’t going to want him to show up after OTAs, training camp, and preseason is over. They are going to want him in the fold as soon as possible, so he can start learning the playbook, developing a rapport with his receivers and offensive line, and getting comfortable with the team.
Dallas needs to take advantage of that leverage. As far as Dallas is concerned, cutting Tony Romo at the end of the preseason is the same as cutting him at the start of free agency. The salary cap benefits will be identical. And if Dallas is worried about further injury, they could just hold Romo out of OTAs, etc. But for any trade partner, Romo’s value will be quite high after the draft when they want him to start meshing with his new team.
Dallas should also want some control over where Tony Romo goes
Another reason for Dallas to keep Romo until they can find a trade partner is that it gives them at least a modicum of control over where Romo ends up. Most of the stories on this topic look at it from Romo’s point of view - “he’d never want to play in Cleveland”, for example.
If you look at it from the Cowboys’ viewpoint, there are some teams Dallas would NOT like to see Romo play for. Washington, for example. Dallas might be willing to trade Romo to Washington, but they certainly wouldn’t want to see him there for free.
Why should Dallas help its competitors?
Finally, to give away a valuable player like Tony Romo will only help some rival team. That’s less of a concern if Dallas gets value back to improve the Cowboys.
Jerry Jones is in the Hall of Fame in large part because of his negotiating skills. He’s used those skills to make the Dallas Cowboys into the most valuable sports franchise in the world, with an estimated value of more than $4 billion. If he can’t use those skills to swing a trade of Tony Romo netting something back for the Dallas Cowboys, then a little bit of that luster will be lost.