Tony Romo injuries have become a very familiar process for the Dallas Cowboys. The veteran quarterback gets hurt, tries to go back in the game despite being far too injured to do so, sits for a month or so, and then Jerry Jones takes to the airwaves to reassure the world that Romo will eventually return (ready or not) and be their starting quarterback for the long term. But now there’s a possibility, albeit a slight one, that the routine could change. There’s a future version of the Cowboys where Romo is not the starter.
The Cowboys are now willing to stick with Dak Prescott, if he’s playing well, when Romo returns, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Stephen Jones himself acknowledged the possibility, citing football’s very own version of the Wally Pipp story, Bledsoe-Brady.
Part of the reason this has never really been an issue, despite Romo’s injury history, is that the Cowboys have always leaned on backups like Kellen Moore, Matt Cassel, or Kyle Orton. Plus, the Cowboys never actually addressed the need for a young backup with a high ceiling. Until now.
Dak Prescott’s preseason performance gave Dallas a rare injection of hope. That’s usually reserved for whatever needle Dr. Jerry insists they use to numb Romo’s back long enough to push through the season.
Setting aside Prescott’s preseason stats, he showed that he was capable of throwing the football like a real quarterback. It helps to have a receiver like Dez Bryant, but let’s face it, a lot of those other backups couldn’t even get the ball in range for Dez to catch. Plus, Prescott showed the kind of poise you expect from veterans, not rookies picked on the second day of the draft.
We’ll get our first look at Prescott this Sunday when the New York Giants come to town.
And what about Romo? The good news is that the Cowboys finally can let Romo heal fully, instead of rushing him back into action because everyone’s sick of watching whatever noodle arm is keeping his seat warm. That might prolong Romo’s career.
But what if the Cowboys really do stick with Prescott once Romo’s healthy enough to return?
Because Jerry Jones decided to make himself general manager, Romo’s contract became an ongoing annual cap problem, requiring repeated restructuring. Trading Romo isn’t a very likely option given his contract. Not only are the numbers prohibitive for any team on the receiving end, such a move would leave Dallas with more than $19 million in dead money on the cap next year. Same thing if Romo retired.
Their best option would be to designate Romo as a post-June 1 cut. That still leaves them with $12 million in dead money next year and almost $9 million the year after that.
Even if Dallas did make Prescott their starting quarterback, it would be financially impossible to do anything but let Romo hold the clipboard until 2018, when he’d be 38. It seems unlikely that if he’s healthy, he’d be willing to use up a full season of his career in backup duty.
Giving Romo the Bledsoe treatment will not be as simple as just swapping out the names on the depth chart.
This is all still a huge IF.
Dak Prescott looks great so far and for all the positives, we still don’t know what we’re getting. The Cowboys opted against putting Romo on injured reserve with the designation to return because he might be "healthy" before eight weeks, at least by NFL medical standards. They may be willing to give Prescott the chance to claim the starting quarterback duties, but it’s still Romo’s job to lose.