For the first time in Tony Romo’s 14-year NFL career, he’ll start the season with a team other than the Dallas Cowboys. They’ll release the veteran quarterback on Thursday, setting up the next chapter in Romo’s career and the biggest storyline of the offseason.
After signing with a team as an undrafted free agent after the 2003 NFL draft, Romo faced the possibility that he wouldn’t make the roster in his first couple seasons, but by 2005 he secured the backup job in Dallas. By October 2006 he was the starter.
For a decade, his status was unquestioned in Dallas. Even when he suffered a broken clavicle in 2010, he was replaced by Jon Kitna for the remainder of the season and there was no doubt that Romo would assume his role as the Cowboys’ leader in 2011.
The same could be said during his injury-filled 2015 season, but when Dak Prescott took over in 2016, the rookie never gave the job back.
Now it’s Prescott who’s assured the starting job for the Cowboys in 2017, and it’s Romo’s $24.7 million cap hit on the schedule that virtually guarantees he won’t be on the team unless he receives a significant pay cut.
Why Romo’s days with the Cowboys are through
Romo has earned four Pro Bowl nods, consistently had a passer rating over 90, and averaged more than 250 yards per game from 2007 to 2013. After nine seasons as the Cowboys’ starter, he became an injury liability in his last two seasons.
But with Prescott’s Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016, now is the time for the Cowboys to turn to a young quarterback with a bright future over a suddenly unreliable quarterback who will turn 37 in April.
Not every team has a young quarterback to build around, though.
For several teams without a good situation at quarterback, a veteran like Romo could step in and start right away.
Romo still wants to play. According to Peter King of the MMQB, Romo has already turned down one lucrative offer so that he can get on the field in 2017.
Why didn’t the Cowboys trade Romo?
Trading a player is a good way to recoup some value for a player you’re fine with moving on from. But it’s not as easy as calling up a team and asking for a shiny, new draft pick in return.
Romo’s $24.7 million cap hit in 2017 isn’t just bad for the Cowboys, it’s a mark that’s just not feasible for any team to pick up. No matter where he goes, he’ll make less than that.
While the NBA has sign-and-trade agreements, the NFL doesn’t. The Cowboys would have to find a team willing to trade for Romo on good faith that he’d be ready to renegotiate his contract on arrival. That’s probably not a tough sell, but Dallas isn’t going to get much in return for a 37-year-old quarterback with an untrustworthy clavicle, anyway.
By releasing Romo, the Cowboys can allow him to do due diligence and select a team that he believes is his best fit, and allow him to negotiate a deal from scratch.
What are the likeliest landing spots?
Las Vegas still gives the Cowboys a good chance at retaining Romo’s services, but it still seems like an unlikely scenario. Instead, the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Houston Texans look like the likeliest candidates to land Romo.
Starting Trevor Siemian with a splash of Paxton Lynch probably isn’t what the Broncos had in mind for 2016 after winning Super Bowl 50. Brock Osweiler was supposed to take over for Peyton Manning, but left in free agency, which may have been a bullet dodged by the Broncos.
The Denver offense was bogged down by inexperience at quarterback coupled with an inability to consistently run the ball.
Lynch may be the Broncos quarterback of the future, but getting an established veteran to serve as a bridge while the 2016 first-round pick is groomed for the role would make sense.
The Broncos aren’t loaded with cap space, but could certainly fit Romo into the budget and could make it even easier by clearing $10.9 million by releasing Russell Okung.
Either way, Romo in Denver is a scenario that has made sense for months.
Odds of signing Romo: 4/10
Signing Osweiler didn’t work out well for the Texans. He’s due to count $19 million against Houston’s salary cap in 2017 and it will actually balloon to $25 million if the Texans part ways with the former Broncos quarterback.
They’re stuck with him. Or at least, they’re stuck with consequences of signing him. And that means sinking more money into the quarterback position could be tough.
While the team’s top-ranked defense and offensive talent would make it a contender with improved quarterback play, the Texans just don’t have a lot of money to work with. Still, it’s not an outrageous scenario.
Odds of signing Romo: 3/10
Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith is fine. But that’s all he is: Good enough to get by, but not the kind of quarterback who can actually go out and win a few games on his own from time to time.
The Chiefs bringing in Romo would then force them to resolve the situation with Smith, who has two years left on his contract. But that wouldn’t be a terrible problem to have.
Kansas City would also have to do some work to finagle Romo’s contract under the cap. Right now, the Chiefs are projected to have only about $4.2 million in cap space, and they have to make decisions about pending free agents Eric Berry and Dontari Poe.
Odds of signing Romo: 2/10
Cutting Jay Cutler seems like a foregone conclusion for the Bears, and his departure will leave the team with a hole at quarterback. Like Romo, Cutler is set to be a significant salary-cap hindrance in 2017, although his release doesn’t come with nearly as much dead money.
The Bears can save $14 million by releasing Cutler, supplementing the team’s already sizable amount of cap space they already have to work with.
They can afford it, but would the team want to replace Cutler with Romo? And would Romo want to play for a team that is still so many pieces away from being a contender? It seems unlikely.
Odds of signing Romo: 1/10
San Francisco 49ers
Just like the Bears, the 49ers can afford Romo. But just like the Bears, the 49ers are far from being a winner.
Colin Kaepernick didn’t even play too poorly for San Francisco and it wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the NFL’s worst defense and an offense that was severely lacking in weapons to work with.
Would Romo want to walk into that rebuilding effort? Doubtful.
Odds of signing Romo: 1/10