Life After Romo: The Next Phase

Time is running out on the career of Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys need to prepare for life without him.
Time is running out on the career of Tony Romo and the Cowboys need to prepare for life without him soon.

By Patrick R. Malone

The Dallas Cowboys have had some great quarterbacks over the years. Don Meredith, Roger “Captain America” Staubach and Troy Aikman are held in high, legendary regard. There’s also Danny White, who led the Cowboys to three-straight National Football Conference Championship games, but lost them all. Still, he was a good quarterback and did good things for the Cowboys.

Then there’s Tony Romo; the quarterback mired in all-things controversy. Is he good? Is he elite? Is he a choker? Over the past nine years, these are questions that seem to follow Romo wherever he goes. And being the quarterback of America’s Team, it’s only natural.

After his record-setting season last year, Romo went down this year with a broken collarbone in the third game against NFC East rival, the Philadelphia Eagles. Over the next eight games Romo sat out, any and all lingering controversial questions should have been put to rest.

Romo went down again after two games back. He’s getting older, which adds a level of concern as to how healthy he can stay over the remainder of his contract. So the question has to be asked, what’s going to happen with life after Romo or when he goes down next?

The Cowboys know it’s time, but have downplayed talks of drafting Romo’s successor in the past.

“Well, I don’t know about first round, necessarily, at all,” Jerry Jones said, via 105.3 The Fan. “Half of the first-round picks that are made don’t work. That’s not negative, they just don’t work, so we have to keep that in mind.”

So, is it time to draft his successor? Is there a free agent available to patch things over for a few years just in case? Or is there a third solution that may present itself in a few years that might be a fit for Dallas?

The Draft
This year’s draft promises a few possible quality quarterbacks to go in the first round, maybe even in the first 10 picks.

With that in mind, let’s not forget that Dallas has only used three draft picks on quarterbacks since 1989: Mr. Aikman, 2001 second-rounder Quincy Carter and 2009 fourth-rounder Stephen McGee. All things considered though, Dallas will have to truly consider adding a fourth pick to that quarterback resume.

So far, most mock drafts seem to put Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and Cal’s Jared Goff as the two top-10 quarterbacks. Now, whether they are there purely based on need for teams won’t really be determined until it’s closer to the draft.

“Lynch has the great range of tools, and Goff has a special arm, moves well, and has a ton of experience,” said Mel Kiper Jr. on ESPN.

After that, it’s Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who seems to be a middle-to-late first-round pick at this point. All of this could change of course, depending on what happens in workouts and the NFL Combine.

But it doesn’t have to be just the first round. There might be a quarterback who fits exactly what Dallas wants to do in the later rounds.

There also is the possibility of drafting a quarterback in one of the rounds after the first; if the Cowboys decide to go with a position player or best player available, then there might be some intriguing prospects available.

North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz is one such player, but would need to be a clipboard holder for a few seasons behind Romo. He does check a lot of boxes for scouts who are looking for the physical traits to play in the National Football League.

“The name to watch as a possible late first pick, perhaps by some team trading back into the first round, is Carson Wentz of North Dakota State,” Kiper wrote. “Forget the school name. If Wentz, a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, were playing for Bama or Florida State you’d think, ‘Man, that team has a really good QB.’ He can move really well.”

Another potential target could be Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. The  dual-threat quarterback could be available in the middle rounds based on early mock drafts, but would more than likely be a project pick.

Ohio State’s Cardale Jones is another interesting project who would be available in the middle rounds. His physical tools make him worth a look.

One name that could be the sleeper of the draft is Trevone Boykin out of TCU. He doesn’t have the height that scouts and teams like in quarterbacks and tends to have some bad habits, but is an instinctive and explosive playmaker. Boykin could be the Russell Wilson of this draft. Of course, it all depends on what happens after workouts and the Combine. That being said Boykin’s draft stock dropped significantly after he was arrested in San Antonio during a dust up at a bar prior to the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Free Agency/Backup
This year’s free agency leaves much to be desired, as far as potential long-term Romo successors go. But there are a few backup-caliber quarterbacks to consider.

“There’s no doubt that we will be, as we move forward, continuing to try to get a situation where if Romo should get hurt, then we got a guy that can step in and carry us for some games, hopefully,” Jones said, via 105.3 The Fan. “That’s a backup description I’m dealing with there – or at the same time, be developing for the future.”

There’s the Sam Bradford’s and Kirk Cousins’ of the world, but the Cowboys are probably not interested in either; Cousins more than likely won’t even make it to free agency. Then again, they could surprise everyone.

Denver’s Brock Osweiler also is a free agent. The problem there is that after getting a taste of starting, Osweiler is undoubtedly not interested in being someone’s clipboard holder and backup again.

The 49ers are expected to cut Colin Kaepernick, a good candidate for somebody to sign and have him hold a clipboard. He needs to regain his confidence and learning a system behind a good quarterback could be just what he needs to find that spark. Dallas might be interested here.

Robert Griffin III isn’t a free agent, but it is widely expected that the Washington Redskins will part ways with him. Jones has said in the past that he is a fan of RGIII, which is probably why he has been linked as a potential landing spot in Dallas here recently. A change of scenery is just what he needs and sitting behind Romo in Dallas could be the perfect place for him to regain that rookie magic.

Then there is Johnny Manziel. Jerry Jones would love to acquire the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M after passing on him in the NFL Draft. Currently Johnny Football is not only auditioning for the Cleveland Browns, but also for other teams. If he shows promise the Browns are likely to keep him, if not he could be traded for.

Hell, if the Cowboys do want a viable (there’s a slight choking, cracking of the voice while saying this) backup, they may just try to wine and dine Brandon Weeden back to Dallas. Let’s face it; most fans are probably wishing he were still under center right about now instead of Matt Cassel or Kellen Moore.

Moore took over Cassel’s job against the Jets and had a mediocre debut. He could turn into a solid backup for Romo, but it’s not likely that Moore is Dallas’ future.

So it all boils down to this: Dallas is more than likely, positively, absolutely not going to find Romo’s successor in free agency; a backup maybe, but no future here – unless it’s RGIII, of course.

Contingency Plan C
Here’s where it gets interesting (as if it wasn’t already, duh).

Matthew Stafford. Let it marinate a second.

It seems like a long shot, but here are the facts.

Stafford is an unrestricted free agent in 2018. He will be the ripe old age of 30. Romo has maybe 2-3 years left, which lines up with Stafford’s free agency date. Oh, and that’s if he’s completely healthy too. If he survives the next couple seasons without injury, then maybe he lasts four years. Stafford was raised right here in the backyard that is Highland Park (shhh don’t tell them I said it was a backyard), which means he’d be coming home.

Also, Jerry likes money. Jerry also likes to spend money. Jerry likes to spend money on flashy things. Throwing a fudge-ton (and yes that is a real measurement) of money at Stafford? Well, that would definitely be considered a flashy thing.

Now, this is all contingent on the Cowboys not drafting a quarterback in the next three years or signing one. Or maybe it’s not, who knows? It’s also contingent on the Lions foregoing their future with Stafford. Then Jones would have to open up that pocket book, which when it comes down to it, will require a lot of zeroes to bring Stafford home.

The Future
The Dallas Cowboys’ future under center is a massive blur. The team doesn’t want to relive the early 2000s or any other time in-between the good/great quarterbacks they’ve had over the years. There will be options, some greater or worse than others for sure. They have needs for a viable backup, which could make them buyers in free agency. But what it all comes down to is simple – Dallas’ future is now.

The 2015 season was a poor one for the Cowboys, leaving a bad taste in Jerry’s mouth and isn’t what he had in mind back in August.

“…We’ve got a long January,” Jones said after the Week 15 matchup. “And you want to be a part of this thing (the playoff race) at this particular time. That’s very disappointing and it’s certainly nothing that I could have envisioned that we’d be sitting here.”

Here’s something Jones can envision now: Romo’s successor, found in the draft or free agency, groomed to perfection and throwing bombs to No. 88.