The eventual team to secure the services of Tony Romo is shaping up to be one of the top stories, if not the biggest of all, for the 2017 NFL offseason. His days with the Dallas Cowboys are about to end, but because of the circumstances, it is not the normal parting of the ways. Since Romo remains under contract with the Cowboys, he will have to either be traded or released. The team, and particularly Jerry Jones, seems committed to helping him find a good place to finish out his career. And Romo has all the leverage. Dallas cannot trade him to a team he does not want to play for. He can effectively veto that by simply retiring and taking one of the multiple offers to go into the media he is reported to have on the table.
Since it became obvious that the emergence of Dak Prescott was going to end Romo’s tenure in Dallas, the Denver Broncos have been one team that looked to be a great fit. They are just one year removed from a Super Bowl victory, they have a tremendous defense to build on, and many feel that neither of their current quarterback options, Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch, is ready to lead the team back into the playoffs. And as has been covered here at BTB, the Broncos are now reported to be “in the driver’s seat” for his services.
But there are some problems there. As chance would have it, I happened to be driving when Colin Cowherd discussed those reports on his national radio show on FOX Sports. And he raised some excellent points on just why Denver was not such a great fit - and why the Houston Texans would make a great deal more sense.
Now, before going on, a bit of a caveat. Cowherd is hardly the most credible source, being the third member of the top “shock jock” triumvirate in sports, along with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. Some of his takes are just silly, like his assertion that any QB needy team should be glad to give up multiple first-round draft picks for Jimmy Garoppolo. This is based on a resume that is roughly one eight to one quarter that of Matt Cassel, who parlayed a season of success under Bill Belichick into a lucrative deal before fizzling out into the sad display of football we saw in 2015 in Dallas. But Cowherd also gets some things pretty right, and in this case, it would be dishonest to discuss the points he raised without crediting the source.
First off, Denver had a dismal offensive line last season. It would be tantamount to football kamikaze for Romo, with his injury history, to sign up to play behind a poor unit like that. The Broncos neither protected their quarterbacks well nor opened running lanes. Romo has had to carry a team on his shoulders before, with little success. That is not a knock on his ability, just a fact of life. He needs protection and a capable running game, such as he had in 2014, to succeed, as most quarterbacks do. The Houston Texans do not have the caliber of line that the Cowboys do, but they still had a top ten running attack - without an Ezekiel Elliott. And they yielded notably fewer sacks. Romo would have a much better chance of getting through a season intact in Houston than in Denver.
Another factor (one Cowherd is particularly fond of) is the coaching. Denver has a rookie head coach in Vance Joseph, and he has a defensive background. In Houston, Romo would be playing for Bill O’Brien, who came up through NFL offensive ranks, particularly with the New England Patriots. He knows how to work with a top-level NFL passer. The situation would be far more favorable for Romo under him.
The divisions the two teams play in could not be more different. The AFC West may be the best in the NFL at the moment. The Oakland Raiders (unless they make it to Las Vegas soon) with a healthy Derek Carr might be the second best team in the AFC behind the Patriots, and they have a couple of the better quarterback hunters in the league in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. The Kansas City Chiefs are always tough and seem to play some of their best games against Denver. Meanwhile, the AFC South is the only division in the league to not have a team with double-digit wins in 2016. The level of competition is just not the same there.
Romo has played his entire career to date for a team with an indoor stadium, and that should not be discounted, despite his growing up and playing high school and college ball in Wisconsin. That was over a decade ago, and the cold is harder to deal with as the years pile up.
One thing both teams have in common is an outstanding defense. They both have the potential to take up some of the slack for the offense, and in Houston’s case, their defense was largely responsible for getting them into the playoffs last season.
The Texans have also been in the conversation about a future team for Romo for some time, but the argument is that the money they (foolishly) shelled out for Brock Osweiller keeps them from investing in Romo. But letting that control their decision would just extend the bad decision-making. The $25 million in guarantees they are still on the hook for are sunk costs. Nothing they do can recoup that money. If the team wants to win, they have to look at what they can do in the future and not let themselves be handcuffed by past mistakes. And the same argument can be made for trying to develop Osweiller while Romo handles the starting job for a couple or three years that is made for Siemian and Lynch. Even if he is not willing to work with the team there, they still have no real future with him starting if he does not improve dramatically over last season. Just throwing him back out there seems an unlikely course to improvement.
For the Cowboys, the best situation would be for the Broncos and Texans to both decide that Romo is the direction they need to take to try and win in the near term. Having at least two suitors for him could create enough of a bidding war for Dallas to get some kind of trade put together, and anything they could get is better than releasing him and getting bupkis. As One Cool Customer explained in the article linked earlier, he can be signed to a team-friendly deal that would potentially let him make the same kind of money he would be due if he still was playing for Dallas, while protecting the team in case of another injury to his battered body.
There is little question that Romo is the best quarterback that is likely to be playing for a new team this year. But he is going to need to find a team that will not put him at undue risk as he seeks to finish out his career. The Broncos simply do not fit that bill, but that team just down the interstate in Texas may be the best fit he can find. And that closeness to his rather palatial home in Dallas and his growing family is one other thing that may be very, very important to him.