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Tony Romo And The Texans: How Houston May Have Lost Their Chance At A Real Franchise Quarterback

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Tony Romo’s retirement from the Cowboys was hardly a done deal, but the Texans missed the opportunity to sway him their way.

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans
Did the Texans really want to roll with Tom Savage?
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

There were two basic reactions to the announcement that Tony Romo was retiring from the Dallas Cowboys. One was shock. After all, we have been bombarded by reports from all directions about how he wanted to go to another team to prove himself, that he was clearly the best available quarterback for needy teams, and how the Cowboys were stalling on releasing him. The other reaction, from a different group of observers, was more along the lines of “Yeah, kinda saw this was coming.”

Ever since it became clear that the Cowboys were going forward with Dak Prescott as the starting quarterback, retirement has always been an option for Romo. And rumors about interest from the broadcast media quickly followed. For some reason, the conventional wisdom held that he was determined to test the market, either as part of a trade (presumably one arranged with his cooperation and approval) or as a free agent after being released by the team. But it became apparent in recent weeks that the market for Romo was simply not very good, and that weak demand was apparently pushing him in the direction of retirement.

There were always a limited number of teams that would have been workable for Romo. Just to briefly recap, he wanted to play for a team will a real chance of contending in the postseason and that had a decent roster for him to join (particularly along the offensive line, given his injury history). Obviously, it had to be a team that also had a real hole at quarterback. The lack of teams willing to be proactive in trying to acquire Romo made it clear just how limited that number was.

But there was always one team that seemed to be by far the best fit for Romo, and that was the Houston Texans. They had all the pieces, and were also the closest franchise to Dallas, where Romo has his rather palatial home and family. During the season, he could easily have made a quick flight from Houston to spend time with his (pregnant) wife and children each week. And it appears that family considerations were fairly important to Romo, and certainly his wife, Candice, who presumably was making her feelings known.

The Texans were apparently interested in Romo. The problem was, they had some clear limits on that interest.

This was where the disconnect existed. Romo clearly had an interest in playing, since he did not just outright retire after the end of the season. But he expected to be treated as what he felt he was, a true franchise quarterback with an established body of work. The Texans, however, were more focused on the injury history, and wanted protection. That may have been something that the two sides could have worked on - but if Houston had wanted to trade for Romo, they would have had to accept the current contract, at least initially. That would have meant a $14 million salary.

This seemed to have been the sticking point - and it may have been a case of the Texans being burnt by their recent experience with Brock Osweiler. They wanted to negotiate Romo down to a team-friendly deal, that would only have paid him money like he would have made in Dallas if he stayed healthy. It does seem likely that Romo balked at that idea. If he was going to put his body at risk again, he would certainly have wanted some guarantees against injury, no matter how much money he has already made.

Where the Texans most likely really blew it, however, was in a simple failure to consider the human side of things. There is no sign they tried to woo Romo, in short. Yeah, that sounds weird and all, but the fact is that a little schmoozing through his agent might have made a lot of difference. But throughout the process, the Texans maintained a firm “wait and see” attitude. They behaved as if they were fine with going into the season with what they have and didn’t really need to go after Romo.

That is a questionable approach, at best. The Texans currently have Tom Savage atop their QB depth chart, and he’s absolutely unproven. This is a very weak draft class at the position, although there has been some speculation that Houston may be targeting Pat Mahomes out of Texas Tech. But most evaluations have Mahomes as very unpolished and unready to be an immediate NFL starter. And that is probably true for any quarterback taken in this year’s draft. There is at least a chance the Texans can come up with their quarterback of the future either through Savage or the draft - it just seems almost impossible for them to find a real franchise passer for THIS season. And meanwhile, the players they have on the roster will be getting older and more beaten up.

The bridge between now and that future QB was the role Romo seemed perfectly suited for. He was seen as having one or two good years in him. There was always a risk of injury, but every player in the NFL runs that risk. Romo certainly had a string of bad injuries, yet there is no way to really determine if he has just become exceptionally brittle, or just had a run of extraordinarily bad luck. Houston obviously leaned towards the former. And may have passed on the opportunity to make a real run this year.

During the conference call about Romo’s being hired by CBS, he even confirmed that Houston had a real shot at him.

Although Romo has now been officially released by the Cowboys and could change his mind, the announcement by CBS that he is on the number one broadcast team would indicate that he is in pretty deep now. That certainly comes with a nice payday, and any reversal in course would put CBS in an uncomfortable spot, now that they have publicly demoted Phil Simms to make room for Romo. The problems that may cause in any future attempts to go to work in the media is certainly a deterrent, despite the fantasies many seem to have about Romo riding out of retirement.

That, quite frankly, seems to be just as well-founded a belief as the one that Romo was committed to finding another team to finish his career.

At one time, of course, Romo was still a candidate to play on. The fact he delayed his decision is evidence that he was still sorting out his path. There were opportunities for the Texans to make a real play for him. And they had the field basically to themselves, barring a last-minute run from the Denver Broncos. But that was unlikely, given that Denver seems to have a realistic chance of making things work with former first-round pick Paxton Lynch. No, the Texans just needed to make some push, maybe just a little one, to get Romo. Instead, they decided to take the cheap route and play the waiting game. Now, they have to hope they can get somewhere with Savage, or try to make a run with someone like Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick.

Yeah. Good luck with that.