When Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo stepped to the podium Tuesday and delivered his memorable soliloquy in handing control of the offense over to Dak Prescott, the team’s brass wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to say.
They were in constant conversations with him, so they knew it wouldn’t be adversarial. But Romo didn’t run it by the team’s public relations staff. He didn’t go over his speech with owner Jerry Jones. He simply wrote a letter, read it and solidified his legacy in the organization. As one member of the Cowboys’ organization said, a lot of people preach being team-first, but when it was time to step up, “He walked the walk.”
Now that Prescott is the Cowboys’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, there are several factors and some fallout related to Romo officially assuming the backup QB role Sunday, via sources informed of the situation:
» The Cowboys view Prescott, who they picked at No. 135 in the draft, as their quarterback of the future. This should be obvious but worth mentioning. Every team with a franchise quarterback is faced with the challenge of following him up with another one. Dallas believes it has found a franchise quarterback. Every step along the way, Prescott has checked every box. With the caveat that it’s still early, and that everyone must continue to compete, they feel like their future at quarterback is solid.
» Prescott’s leash will be a long one. This is not a tryout or a game-by-game proposition for the Cowboys. Dak is the future, he’s earned the job as Romo mentioned, and he’s the starter. Based on my understanding, he’ll be treated like any other starter. Moving forward it’s his job, barring a meltdown that no one expects or, say, a miserable four-game losing streak. Romo is simply waiting.
» For Romo, to be able to read that letter to the public took months. He came a long way. As he alluded to publicly, Romo spent most of rehab in a “dark place.” He was distant and not involved, even though he’d come to the facility regularly. That changed drastically as he got healthier. He’s not only been involved in Prescott’s development recently, but has come to accept the ascension. Romo did go to members of the Cowboys’ brass to ask to compete for a job, but was told it’s not in the team’s best interests. As a source put it, “He’s a fierce competitor, so of course it hurts. What red-blooded athlete wouldn’t want to compete? But he understands.”
» There will be a market for Romo this offseason, as the team will look to trade him. Though owner Jerry Jones said he’s given no consideration to having Romo on another team, carrying him as the backup for another year doesn’t seem realistic. Romo, I’m told, already has eyes on the Broncos as a possible destination if general manager John Elway decides Paxton Lynch needs another year and that Trevor Siemianisn’t the guy. Other options, depending on a variety of factors, include the Bears, Jets, Cardinals, and Bills. When the Cowboys do trade him, they’ll still have to deal with about a $20 million salary-cap hit. Romo will have significant say in the matter given that he will need to renegotiate his deal. He, essentially, could veto any move.
» Romo’s friend and long-time confidant Jason Witten said he doesn’t believe Romo will retire after this season. I’m told this actually is a consideration. Romo could retire a member of the Cowboys this year, it’s one of the options depending on how the year plays out and how his body feels going forward. Romo does feel he’s in better shape now than he’s been in a while. If Romo retires, expect him to stay within the Cowboys’ organization. He’s very close to the Joneses, watching Jerry’s grandson play football and he’s traveled to at least one game on Jerry’s private plane.
The rest will play out over the course of 2016, but don’t be surprised if Romo is the most talked-about quarterback this offseason.