It has been coming for some time now, but it was still hard to see that the Tony Romo era in Dallas is really ending.
Jerry Jones always harbored some hope in his heart that Romo could still stay with the team somehow, but that was always unrealistic. And in the end, it comes down to business.
Releasing Romo creates $5.1M of cap space immediately. Alternatively, and this would be the much more likely option, the team could designate a Romo a June 1 cut, which would create much more cap space in 2017.
As a June 1 cut, Romo's cap hit in 2017 would only be $10.7, thus creating a cool $14 million cap saving in 2017, even if that saving would come with $8.9 million worth of dead money in 2018.
There are going to be a ton of tribute articles about Romo, including several from our own front page writers (like this one from Danny Phantom). But Todd Archer has a great perspective.
If you judge things off the process, then his story should be as uplifting as anything that Dallas, or the NFL, has seen. In 2003, he was an afterthought as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois, the fourth in a quarterback competition with Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Clint Stoerner. In 2004, Carter's release in training camp could have saved his roster spot because the Cowboys had just signed Vinny Testaverde and added Drew Henson.
His story exploded in 2006, when he took over for Drew Bledsoe. For the next decade, he was the Cowboys' best hope for their sixth championship. There was Romo-mentum and Romo-mania. He had the comeback wins and the devastating losses. He dazzled with his improvisation and confounded with some decisions.
For me, though, there are two things about Romo that will always come to mind, and neither was an actual football play. But they captured so much of his real nature, I think. The first was this.
never forget pic.twitter.com/CraijivuRV— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 8, 2017
It was such a funny, cocky, almost playful move. It encapsulated the passion he had for the game, and still showed just how much fun he somehow had - despite broken bones and a punctured lung, he still was all in all the time.
And then there was this.
It was a unique, incredible moment in sports. And it captured one thing about Romo that everyone should always remember. He took things as a man, with no excuses, no finger-pointing. Just an amazing amount of grace under pressure.
In that moment, he showed that he was not only a truly great quarterback. He may have been the best human being to ever don the Star.
Real fans will miss him so very much.
There is, of course, no bigger one to fall than Romo.
Tony Romo: The Cowboys will reportedly release Romo on Thursday, and he'll instantly be the hottest name on the free agent quarterback list. The Denver Broncos and Houston Texans seem like the most ideal landing spots, given the strength of their respective defenses and the offensive talent on both teams. Romo could step in and make either contenders.
The Texans and the Broncos are seen as the leading contenders for Romo's services. There is an argument to be made that Houston is the better destination for him - and they certainly have an obvious need. Now they just need to fully grasp the meaning of sunk costs.
3 - Houston Texans
This is the saddest entry on this list, because the Texans paid a pretty penny for Brock Osweiler last offseason in hopes that he would become the franchise quarterback this team so desperately needs.
The Texans have a dominant defense, and that's how Houston has managed to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons with a carousel of ineptitude at quarterback. In 2015, Houston won its division by virtue of the division being the AFC South, despite the fact that they had to work with Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, and even B.J. Daniels behind center for a couple of snaps.
For the Broncos, it comes down to weighing the pros and the cons.
The Denver Broncos were among teams mentioned when Romo's name came up in Indy. Told at the combine the "prevailing wisdom" is the Broncos would be in the market for a veteran quarterback, the team's chief football decision-maker, John Elway, fired back: "Whose prevailing wisdom is that?"
Told it was that of other league evaluators, Elway said, "Then I guess I should.
"I'll say this: We're going to look at all the options once they become available. We're going to look at all the options, and if it's best for the Denver Broncos, if it's best for this team, because it's not only about winning next year, but it's also what it does for the future ... we'll kick the tires on everything and do our homework on everything and then make the best decision on what we think is right for the Broncos."
The big question for any team signing Romo is just how long he would survive on the field.
Now comes the hard part for Romo and teams. The general consensus I hear in speaking with team officials, including some not in the bidding for Romo, is that he could be the prize of free agency. There's just that one problem:
"He could lead teams to a Super Bowl," said one NFC general manager, "or he could break his leg in the opener. That's what teams have to wrestle with when deciding if they want to sign him."
Of course, there was other news about the Cowboys. For a full recap of the days events in one convenient package, check out our free agency tracker. We are keeping it updated as the stories roll in.
Once again, we can expect that the Cowboys will not be making any big splashes in free agency. And as Jerry Jones says, this is a very deliberately chosen course.
"I accept that. That doesn't bother me because everybody's playing by the same rules and this is the life we've chosen," Jones said. "I don't get mad at it. I get competitive about it. I get frustrated when one doesn't work for us, when we make a decision that we'd like to have back. But I don't get mad at it. We need to practice what we preach to Dak, or what you'd preach to a quarterback : 'Man, get over it.' Make the bad play, get over it, correct it as quick as you could and go."
You can accept Jones' answer or not, but the Cowboys are done with the big prices in free agency. They haven't been in that market since giving Brandon Carr a five-year, $50 million deal in 2012. Carr was solid but still needed to accept a pay cut in 2016 to last the length of the deal. Before Carr, the biggest deal the Cowboys doled out was to Leonard Davis in 2007 to the tune of seven years and $49 million. He was named to the Pro Bowl in the first three years of the deal, but did not warrant the selection in 2009 and was released after the 2010 season.
One of the key things about re-signing Brice Butler: There is no downside.
What's the risk: None. There is not a big financial commitment and will not keep the Cowboys from continuing to strengthen the position. Beyond some bigger deals they could give to some of their own players, like Barry Church or Brandon Carr, this is the type of depth deal the Cowboys have made good with the past few years on players like Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford.
Oh, yeah, there is still the question of just how effective Jaylon Smith is going to be this year.
Despite a slew of conflicting reports, the facts are simple and they're directly from the mouths of both the Dallas Cowboys' organization and Smith himself:
- The nerve in his rehabilitated knee has begun to regenerate.
- He has begun to regain sensation in his foot, indicating the nerve has begun to fire.
- He can play with the brace on that prevents the "drop foot" condition.
With that all cleared up (until the next report makes you believe otherwise, that is), the former Notre Dame star has already begun releasing a series of videos proving he can operate just fine wearing the brace -- although, admittedly, there's still a ways to go before we'll know what he'll ultimately put on film next season.
For his part, however, Smith has only one thing to say about it all.
"The message is: Jaylon's gonna ball this year," he told USA Today while visiting the 2017 NFL Combine.