The Dallas Cowboys have not made the playoffs in three seasons and finished both 2011 and 2012 with 8-8 records, yet quarterback Tony Romo was awarded with a six-year contract extension in March worth $108 million.
Romo has made himself an easy scapegoat of sorts with memorable failures that stick in the heads of fans. It gets him labeled as the source of the Cowboys' struggle to ascend to the NFL's elite. Most recently, the Dallas quarterback threw three interceptions in a Week 17 game that could've sent the team to the playoffs, including an interception thrown to Rob Jackson in the final minutes on what could have been a game-winning drive.
Yet it's still hard to blame Romo when the team is broken down statistically. In the past two seasons, Romo has amassed over 9,000 yards passing with 59 touchdowns and 29 interceptions, placing him in the top 10 in the NFL in passer rating in each season.
He hasn't lacked game-winning drives either, as Romo led five fourth-quarter comebacks in 2012 and four in the season prior. He's been so solid statistically that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones actually wants Romo to take more of the reins, according to Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio.
"He's played a lot of games now," Jones told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday night. "He certainly had a lot of time on the job before he ever started and played. He has a unique grasp of our offensive concepts. The people who are around him the most - his coaches - tell me he's never had a bad idea."
Instead it might be more appropriate to find other spots on the Cowboys offense that have kept the team from becoming one of the NFL's elite offensive units:
Interior offensive line
The Cowboys sent a message with their poignant effort to address the center position by selecting Travis Frederick in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. While the move left many scratching their heads, Frederick is expected to be a contributor right away for the Cowboys and help along the interior.
While the Cowboys finished the 2012 season as the third-best passing team, they were the second-worst at running the ball. In the middle was Ryan Cook for much of the season, who didn't have quite as bad of a season as right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, but didn't help much either. The addition of Frederick should provide the Cowboys with a starter and increased competition at the guard spots, as Phil Costa and Cook could compete elsewhere.
Doug Free looked like the team's left tackle of the future after the 2010 season, but his play significantly declined in 2011 and didn't improve much after he was moved to the right side in 2012. While Tyron Smith has become a reliable player for the Cowboys and is essentially a lock to stay at left tackle, the team elected not to find a replacement for Free on the right side.
One possible solution for the Cowboys could be the addition of Eric Winston, a player who has been consistent throughout his career, but released twice in as many years. Both the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs sent Winston packing, but he could be a patch for the Cowboys who are scheduled to take a $10 million cap hit in 2013 from Free's contract.
With the second-worst running attack in the NFL, the obvious answer for the team's struggle running the ball is at running back. A third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, DeMarco Murray hasn't been a problem for the Cowboys, as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie and managed 4.1 in his second season.
Still, Murray has struggled with injuries and hasn't yet taken a full-time role with the team. Following the departure of Felix Jones, the Cowboys will have to hope that Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, will be the solution for the team as they look for a viable option to spell carries for Murray.