Tony Romo no longer has a place in Dallas — at least not as a starting quarterback. If reports are true, there may be a soft landing spot for the Cowboy passer in the thin air of Denver instead.
Rookie Dak Prescott’s ascension to MVP candidate made the former All-Pro a $20 million backup in 2016. With the 36-year-old passer headed toward a $24.7 million cap hit next summer, Dallas will likely look to move its veteran QB in order to devote its resources elsewhere.
There are plenty of teams who would be interested. The New York Jets settled on Ryan Fitzpatrick this summer and he rewarded their faith with more interceptions than any other passer in the NFL. Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco all have a pile of flaming tires where a quarterback should go.
But no team would be a better fit than Denver. The Broncos proved this four years ago, and the logic holds true today. Peyton Manning set the precedent by revitalizing his career at Mile High Stadium. Romo can do the same.
Manning’s success in Denver has set the stage for another proven, veteran quarterback to take the reins
Much like Romo, Manning had been forced out of his long-term starting role thanks to injury concerns and the presence of a rising young passer. He landed in the AFC West and proved to be the missing component in a plug-and-play roster ready for primetime. In four seasons, Manning went 51-15 as a starter, played in two Super Bowls, and won one.
Not much has changed for Denver in the intervening five years. A talented roster has pushed the 2016 Broncos to a 7-3 record and a shot at the AFC West crown despite the lackluster play of young quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Together, the two have combined for a relatively inefficient 6.9 yards per attempt and an 85.2 passer rating.
In 2014, the last season Romo started more than four games, the Cowboys gained an average of 8.5 yards each time he threw the ball. He had a league-best passer rating of 113.2. While there’s no guarantee Romo would return to that form three years after the fact, he’d have several opportunities to show off his skills as a passer.
He’d slide into an offense with some of the league’s top receiving weapons. Demaryius Thomas is a 230-pound monster who earned a pair of All-Pro selections with Manning as his quarterback. Emmanuel Sanders gained more than 2,500 yards in his two seasons with the veteran passer. While the Denver offensive line has been disappointing — Broncos QBs have gotten sacked on nearly 7 percent of dropbacks this fall, one of the worst rates in the league — few teams can boast this level of dynamic downfield weaponry.
But even if Romo isn’t late-career Peyton Manning — or just 34-year-old Tony Romo — the Broncos have the defense to keep that from being an issue. Linebacker Von Miller is the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year honors. Denver ranks third in the league in sack rate and has held opposing passers to an NFL-low 71.0 quarterback rating this season.
The veteran would also be an ideal fit to mentor the young quarterbacks on the Broncos roster. Romo pledged himself to helping Prescott develop after losing his starting role and has been a consummate teammate in his 13 seasons in the league. While Siemian had the chance to spend a year under Manning’s tutelage, Lynch was not as lucky. Each player would benefit from the chance to learn from a tried and tested veteran like Romo.
But an aging Tony Romo is no panacea
There are caveats that will drive down Dallas’ asking price when Jerry Jones and his confidants begin negotiations. Romo is an expensive player who will be 37 years old in 2017. Injuries kept him out of 12 games last year and another nine this season. In the games he did play, he was ineffective; 2015’s 79.4 passer rating was the lowest of his career.
Romo also benefited from a tremendous offensive line and a tailback who could create breathing room in the passing game in 2014. The Cowboys paved the way for a league-best 1,846 yards from DeMarco Murray that fall, and Romo was only sacked 29 times. Meanwhile, the Broncos have been uneven at tailback and have allowed 29 sacks through only 10 games. As inviting as Denver’s receivers make this team, limited blocking prevents a major obstacle in restoring Eastern Illinois football’s most famous alumni to his former greatness.
And even a high-performing Romo may struggle to fit within the Denver offense. Head coach Gary Kubiak runs an low-risk, conservative offense. The Dallas quarterback has never been shy about taking shots downfield, even when the odds aren’t in his favor. He’s thrown 46 interceptions over his last 50 games — eight more than the projected total from Siemian/Lynch over the same span.
On the other hand, the Broncos put up with 53 interceptions in Manning’s 57 starts. Maybe they’re willing to take the good with the bad.
If 2016’s postseason run ends prematurely, the Broncos might be pressured into making a move
Denver took a calculated risk in 2012, jettisoning Tim Tebow and declaring a 36-year-old veteran as their quarterback of the future. Five years later, the Broncos could have the opportunity to make a similar call when it comes to four-time Pro Bowler Romo. With all the pieces in place for another Super Bowl run but a steady quarterback, it could be a gamble John Elway deems necessary.
If Dallas doesn’t want to shell out starting quarterback cash for a veteran — even one as beloved as Romo — Jones will start sniffing out trade offers. While the wily owner will chase down the best value, he could also take his long-term QB’s future into account, as well. If the Broncos offer fair value, it would make too much sense for Denver, Dallas, Jones, and Romo to send him anywhere else.