The Great Tony Romo Debate
A highly debated topic of conversation for the entirety of the 2016 NFL season, Tony Romo’s questionable return still remains a hot button issue. Romo will be 37 at the start of the 2017 season and has played in only five games over the past two seasons due to injury. Many are concerned the injured soldier has passed his prime. Yet, in his last full season (2014), Romo completed 69.9 percent of his passes, threw 34 touchdowns and went 12-3 in 15 starts. One could assume Romo would have started and finished his career as a Dallas Cowboy, that is, if not for the success of Dak Prescott. With their future apparently set with Prescott behind center, the Cowboys are seeking a new home for their former franchise quarterback, while fantasy owners wait impatiently for what that can mean for their teams.
In reality, there are very few teams in a suitable position to acquire a 37-year-old quarterback for a large chunk of cap space. Most organizations either have their own franchise quarterback already in place or simply aren’t ready to compete next year – e.g. Cleveland, Jets, 49ers, etc. – making those locations less than desirable for Romo, while lacking sufficient collateral to offer the Cowboys in return.
Romo can be considered a future Hall-of-Famer, all he’s missing is a Super Bowl ring. If Romo finishes his career outside of the Cowboy’s organization, he has to go somewhere where he can make an immediate impact, leaving only a few desirable destinations.
So where does Romo make the most sense? Where does he have the best shot at winning a Super Bowl? There are three teams who have the opportunity to become Super Bowl contenders with Romo at the reins, and fantasy owners should hope he lands in one of following situations.
While Houston hasn’t completely kicked Brock Osweiler to the curb, they have made it clear they’re willing to consider other options. They also proved they can win their division without a star quarterback and missing their all-star defensive end.
In a struggling AFC, the Texans have an easy road to become the second-best team in the conference. It’s a wonder what Houston could become by adding Hall of Fame talent at quarterback to their already top ranked defense. Here are the 2016 defensive leaders in yards allowed:
|RK||TEAM||YDS||YDS/G||PASS||P YDS/G||RUSH||R YDS/G||PTS||PTS/G|
Houston is one of Romo’s best options for a ring and could easily make him a top-10 quarterback for fantasy drafts, largely thanks to one of the league’s greatest wide receivers — DeAndre Hopkins — in place as a number one target. The Texans have the 18th-best offensive line, which can be improved with good quarterback play, especially paired with a sufficient running game. Not to mention, Houston isn’t a long trek from Jerry’s World.
After a year of concern at the quarterback position, neither Trevor Siemian nor Paxton Lynch have proven they can bring the Broncos back into contention. Although General Manager John Elway claims to be comfortable at the position, Romo can be their next Peyton Manning. With a win-now defense ranked fourth in yards and two strong wide-outs, Romo would have the tools he needs to lead Denver back to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos have been rumored to be the top landing spot for Romo, yet the Broncos don’t seem willing to give up enough for the Cowboys to consider a trade. This move may only be possible if the Cowboys release Romo.
There’s one more seemingly overlooked option. The Vikings entered the 2016 season with Super Bowl potential, only to have their dreams halted by the devastating knee injury to Teddy Bridgewater. If Bridgewater is unable to play this season, the Vikings are an ideal fit for Romo. They’d first have to release Sam Bradford, the guy who helped the Vikings start 5-0, only to end their season 8-8. Bradford, too, is an injury-riddled player. He also has never had an adjusted yards per attempt above league average, while Romo has never been below average (and led the NFL twice).
GM Rick Spielman has spent the last few years building up the Vikings defense, drafting nine defensive players in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since 2012. They’ll bring back most of their key defensive players in 2017 and have the cap space to build their offensive line and receiving corps.
If the Vikings used the same rationale to acquire Romo as they did with Bradford, a deal could get done. Bradford is, unfortunately, incapable of having a passing game even marginally comparable to Romo’s. He’s not going to get the Vikings where they need to be in 2017. If they want to win now, they should line up a meeting with Jerry Jones in the next few weeks. In turn, fantasy owners would have a little rearranging to do themselves.
Can Romo stay healthy enough to make it to a Super Bowl?
Since 2010, Romo has failed to reach double-digit starts in a season three times, two of which were in the last two seasons. On the other hand, Romo is tied for the sixth-highest career yards per attempt in NFL history. The last time Romo did play a full season (2014) he led the NFL in rating, QBR, completion percentage, and YPA. He currently ranks seventh among active quarterbacks in game-winning drives with 30.
NFL Career Quarterback Rating Leaders (Regular Season)
While he finished 11th or higher in quarterback rating for four straight seasons from 2011 to 2014, the concern for organizations and fantasy owners alike is not whether Romo has the talent to win a Super Bowl. It’s if his body can handle the physical punishment of being a quarterback in the NFL.
Most of Romo’s recent injuries (back, ribs) weren’t career-ending because they had little to no effect on his throwing motion. His last shoulder injury was in 2010, and since has proved mobility isn’t an issue. Unfortunately, since he could get hit on any given play (e.g. on his third snap in his first preseason appearance in 2016), and has history of a recurring injury, you have to wonder if this is it for Romo.
After a year of watching from the bench as the team he raised blossom, I don’t see Romo going down without a fight. Rather, he can go one of two ways, he can be a good quarterback, or a great quarterback.
Good Quarterback: When I think of the most comparable quarterback to Romo, I can’t seem to get Philip Rivers out of my mind. Rivers is the franchise leader for the Chargers in touchdown passes, passing yards, completions, and attempts. His is an accomplished career, except he has only led the Chargers to the postseason five times and only reached the conference championship once. He is also rounding out 35 years of age and has thrown 156 interceptions in his career (comparatively, Romo has thrown 117 and missed the last two seasons). Yet despite his career high 21 interceptions in 2016, Rivers managed to stay a top-15 quarterback for fantasy owners. This is how I see Romo performing if he finds a more unlikely home with the Bills or the Cardinals.
Great Quarterback: As quarterbacks age, they tend to eventually hit a wall (excluding Tom Brady). They turn the ball over more, and their risky gun-slinging no longer reaps many rewards. The Colts felt that way about Peyton Manning. He was coming off serious injury, he’d had his success, and it was time for them to move on to a new franchise quarterback. Except Manning wasn’t done collecting rings. And he found the right talent on offense and defense to get him there in Denver. While the Colts and fantasy owners gave up on him, Manning had two championships left in him and three solid years as a top-5 fantasy passer. If Romo joins the Broncos, he will look to reproduce the type of stats Peyton Manning posted in his final seasons:
I think Romo’s fate lies with his teammates. If he can go to one of these three teams, with substantial protection and a passing game, he deserves a favorable draft pick. The risk is worth the potential upside, and I believe Romo has the passion and the discipline to stand upright for at least two more years.
Romo may have zero value for fantasy owners
Add his age to reasonable injury concerns, and another potential outcome for Romo in 2017 is continuing his career as a Dallas Cowboy. Tony Romo means more to the Cowboys (read: Jerry Jones) than a fourth-round pick. Despite the load his contract puts on their cap space, the Cowboys will not give up Romo for nothing, making it possible (and unfortunate) for an aging Romo to spend another year as a back-up. That is, unless they release Romo.
With Ian Rappaport reporting the Cowboys will strive to trade Romo within the next 30 days, we will hopefully get the answers we’re waiting for soon enough. I don’t imagine the Cowboys will receive an offer worthy of Romo’s value, and would hope they let him go before they sentence him to another year on the bench.
However, if the great Romo debate continues, it will be difficult and unfortunate for dynasty leagues that draft early. Romo has to be drafted as if he’s going to get a new job, but I wouldn’t take him over some other quarterbacks in his age bracket (Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, or even his counterpart Philip Rivers).
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