By Jason Keidel
While the media and masses play spin the bottle with Tony Romo’s career, it feels like there are more candidates for the Cowboys QB’s services than there are NFL clubs.
Depending on the channel, show or pundit, the beleaguered Cowboy — who had a biblically bad year, going from Cowboys QB to injured to benched to perhaps cut in six months — has a dozen potential destinations. Predictions for where Romo will end up pinball across the map, from the Bears to the Browns to the Jets to the 49ers.
But if we thumb through the rosters, and consider Romo’s age, wage and talent, there seem to be two teams that would be the most logical fit.
The first spot is Denver, in the mile-high altitude and winning attitude that began with John Elway under center and continue now with Elway behind a desk. The Broncos icon has been nearly as good as GM as he once was as QB, making Denver some fertile football soil for free agents who have made their money but are missing a Super Bowl ring.
No one knows that better than Romo’s former teammate DeMarcus Ware, who the Cowboys gave up on way too soon. While Dallas continued to toil in injury and mediocrity, Ware went to two Super Bowls with Denver, winning one and putting a cherry on top of a potential Hall-of-Fame career.
The sales pitch is simple. Denver has an obscene home-field advantage, rabid defense and a legend running the front office. And who could counsel Romo any better than Elway, who just sent Peyton Manning into the sunset with a second Super Bowl title?
Quite tempting. Add the fact that Elway is still struggling to find Peyton’s replacement. The QB soup of Mark Sanchez, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian has given the former QB great some gridiron indigestion. For all of Elway’s on-field and front-office acumen, there are 32 NFL teams but are hardly 32 franchise quarterbacks. No doubt Elway, like every other GM, is especially sick over passing on Romo’s replacement and tormentor, Dak Prescott.
While Elway paid Peyton Manning $20 million a year, and the Texans pay Brock Osweiler $72 million over four years, Prescott makes a microscopic $540,000 this year, up from a laughable $450,000 in 2016. Not bad for a QB who just lorded over a 13-3 season.
But Denver is missing three things that quarterbacks covet, particularly an aging and increasingly brittle QB like Romo — a robust running game, high-grade offensive line and warm weather.
To that end, let’s consider the best destination for the Dallas QB — about 240 miles due south. Take a four-hour drive, down I-45, and find Houston, home of the Texans, and perhaps the future home of Tony Romo.
Frankly, Houston is it. They have Pro Bowl RB in Lamar Miller, a quarterback’s best friend. They have the league’s best defense, with Jadeveon Clowney playing like a No. 1 pick and JJ Watt to return in 2017. Outstanding wideout DeAndre Hopkins will be frothing to return to form after a woeful season. And they play in South Texas, warm all year long. And in the rare moments of inclement weather, they just slide that space-age dome over the game.
Forget Osweiler’s feelings. You can either admit the $72 million mistake or double-down on it and lose again in the first round of the playoffs.
The numbers work for both Texas teams. With a league-wide cap bump of about $13 million, at least half the NFL has a minimum $30 million in cap room entering 2017. Houston has about $24 million as of February 7 (according to overthecap.com).
No team could use a salary dump more than Dallas, who are last in the league in terms of spending money. In fact, they are one of only two teams in the red. Despite the cap jumping $13 million, the Cowboys are $13 million over the cap. Releasing Romo would save the Cowboys about $5.1 million in dead cap space.
The only reason Dallas would keep Romo is because Jones has become Romo’s surrogate/football father. And while the rest of us were busy being spellbound by Prescott’s performance in 2016, a part of Jones ached to see his old QB on the field for one more run.
Jones has to cut Romo, provided he asks. When he got Wally Pipped by Prescott, the locker room was a potential powder keg. All Romo had to do was hint that he deserved to play. That would have engulfed the Cowboys, the biggest dispute since J.R. Ewing got shot, just ahead of the feud between Jones and Jimmy Johnson. Instead, Romo handled the whole thing with wisdom, humility and nobility. And with Jones squirting lighter fluid onto that simmering situation every week, Romo had the match and never dropped it.
Bill O’Brien is an offensive coordinator at heart, so it’s not like Romo would be parachuting into a cauldron of coaches fighting over the playbook. And it’s impossible to think of a better sight than Tony Romo, a lifelong Cowboy, getting to ride off into the Texas sunset.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.