Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/19/13
Jerry Jones is confident it will get done. Stephen Jones says it's the Cowboys' top priority. Yet as the draft approaches, we still haven't heard a word about progress being made on signing quarterback Tony Romo to a contract extension. The Cowboys need to sign Romo to an extension for salary cap reasons. If he plays out the final season of his contract, he will count 16.8 million against the cap in 2013. As of now, the Cowboys are reported to be less than 100,000 under the cap. Room will have to be made just to sign the new draft picks. But if Romo doesn't sign an extension, it might not be the worst thing in the world for the Cowboys. Sure, some immediate belt-tightening would have to occur to stay under the cap. Anthony Spencer would have to be signed to an extension, and several veterans could be cut on June 1, when the salary cap hit is lessened. It won't be easy, but paying Romo his full 16.8 million in 2013 could pay off in other ways. For one thing, you would see a highly motivated Romo. Even if he doesn't re-sign with the Cowboys, he will be auditioning for a job with someone else. The Ravens' Joe Flacco played the final year of his contract in 2012. He wound up winning the Super Bowl and getting a new contract that makes him the NFL's highest-paid player. Which is not to say that Romo isn't already a highly-motivated player. But anyone who follows professional sports knows that athletes tend to have career years when a contract is on the line. There's also the possibility that Romo is looking to play his way out of Dallas. He will turn 33 next month and his opportunities to get to a Super Bowl are dwindling. After all this time in Dallas, playing for an owner who thinks he doesn't need a top offensive line to protect him, has Romo finally determined it's not going to happen for him with the Cowboys? We don't know Romo's thoughts on this because Romo isn't saying anything. All we've heard are assurances from owner Jerry and VP Stephen that an extension will get done. If Romo isn't signed to an extension, it doesn't mean Romo could walk away after 2013. The Cowboys could put a franchise tag on him and keep him in the fold. However, an exclusive franchise tag could mean paying Romo as much as 20 million next season, which would again put the Cowboys in a salary cap bind. If Romo spurns a contract extension, it means he doesn't want to be here and it's probably best for both parties that they part ways. Which means the Cowboys have to get working on identifying a new quarterback, pronto. They've got backup Kyle Orton in house for the next two seasons. Orton, 30, has been a serviceable starter in the past, but he's probably not a long-term solution. The Cowboys could look for a new starter in free agency, but Peyton Mannings don't come onto the market very often. Free agency is usually where the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Hasselbeck can be found. The draft is best route to finding a starting quarterback, although the Cowboys haven't had much practice at it. The last two quarterbacks the Cowboys drafted were Quincy Carter and Stephen McGee. This year's draft isn't nearly as deep at the quarterback position as last year's when Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all turned into instant starters. Next year's draft might be more promising the Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas among the expected pool of talent. All of the scenarios created by not signing Romo to an extension involve some risk. The easiest path for the Cowboys is to get Romo under a new contract. That would solve their immediate salary cap problems and give them an answer at quarterback for a few more years. A lot of disgruntled Cowboys fans don't like that answer. Starved for post-season success, they would prefer the Cowboys not give Romo an extension and send him on his way. That's not likely to happen, given the consequences that would be triggered by such a decision. But as each day passes without any news of an extension, the possibility exists that the post-Romo era could start sooner rather than later. Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
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