There’s no doubt that Tony Romo has been under a microscope throughout his career as the starting quarterback of one of the NFL’s most popular teams. The Cowboys just gave us all 108 million (or 55 million if you only want to count guaranteed money) more reasons to zoom-in.
Much to the chagrin of many observers, the Cowboys from signed Romo to a six-year, $108 million contract extension that includes $55 million in guaranteed money on Friday.
“Absolutely, we feel we can win a championship with Tony,” Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones told USA Today (via CBSSports.com). “We wouldn’t be doing all of this if we didn’t think we could win with him.”
We’ll find out if Jones and his father, Cowboys Owner/GM Jerry Jones will be rewarded for their faith soon enough, but there is a reasonable argument to support giving Romo this deal.
With few alternatives available to them other than stumbling upon the right quarterback in the draft this year or next, and Joe Flacco’s deal already setting the market, the Cowboys chose to commit to Romo in hopes of staying relevant in the NFC East long enough to eventually breakthrough with a successful playoff run.
In many ways I think the Cowboys’ move is analogous to the Atlanta Hawks’ decision to give Joe Johnson a $119 million dollar contract extension in 2010. Like Romo’s deal, Johnson’s deal was met with plenty of criticism.
Johnson was 29 when he signed his deal, and in NBA years that’s similar to where Romo is now as a soon to be 33-year old starting quarterback in the NFL. Moreover, Johnson’s Hawks were a fringe playoff team like Romo’s Cowboys, having been swept out of the playoffs in the second round in consecutive seasons prior to Johnson getting his extension.
In addition, many would argue that Romo’s value to the Cowboys exceeds his value on the open market the way that Johnson’s value to the Hawks exceeded his.
Hawks’ management made a choice that was very similar to the one that Jerry Jones’ Cowboys just made when they decided to re-sign Johnson: they opted to avoid risking falling into the NBA’s draft lottery in favor of maintaining their status as a fringe playoff team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Even though the Hawks (with a new GM) eventually decided to get rid of Johnson’s contract in an effort to free up cap space, one key distinction (other than the fact that NFL contracts aren’t fully-guaranteed like NBA deals) between the two moves is that being a fringe playoff team in today’s NFL is a lot different than being a fringe playoff team in the NBA.
The NBA hasn’t seen a playoff team seeded lower than third win a championship since the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets in 1995. Meanwhile, the 2011 New York Giants won the Super Bowl following a 9-7 regular season and the sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers won a title as a wildcard team in 2010.
Even though Romo has led the Cowboys to a pedestrian 16-16 mark over the last two seasons, Dallas was only a game away from getting into the postseason in 2011 and 2012. As New York and Green Bay have recently demonstrated, once a team gets into the playoffs, anything can happen.
Given that context, perhaps the Cowboys didn’t necessarily embrace mediocrity when they extended Romo.
“We’ve always looked at him as a great quarterback,” Jones said. “He wants to win a championship as much as anybody.”
Despite his shortcomings, Dallas has decided to bet $55 million in guaranteed money on Romo and his 55-38 career regular season record getting them into January and stringing together three of four wins over facing an uncertain future at the most important position in football.
If the Cowboys are wrong, they’ll likely be set back even further than they would have been if they had decided to move on from the Romo era after next season.
If they’re right, Jerry Jones will end up having a Mastercard-like “priceless” moment when he hoist up the Lombardi trophy next to the highest paid player in Cowboys history.