We aren’t in Tony Romo’s soon-to-be 37-year-old body, so we don’t know the lingering aches of a thrice-broken collarbone and a broken back. Losing the only job he had with the only team he knew was difficult to bear, for sure. But his retirement—reported Tuesday morning by ESPN—has a feel closer to Brett Favre’s than, say, the finality of Peyton Manning.
Indeed, Romo will be wanted by all of the TV networks. I don’t doubt that he will call games for CBS or FOX to begin the season, but everywhere he goes the question will still linger. Every call he makes this year will include a playful jab from his play-by-play partner and a wink from coaches in the broadcast meeting.
Just ask Jon Gruden.
Gruden, who hasn’t coached in the NFL since before Barack Obama became president, has enjoyed great success as Monday Night Football’s color commentator—but he’s had to fight off coaching requests the entire time. ESPN reported in January that Gruden rejected overtures from three teams, including one that already had a coach (the Colts).
Coaching and playing are not the same, of course—Romo would have to stay in tremendous shape if he wants to be taken seriously by NFL teams, but common sense indicates that teams will make a serious effort to get him back on the playing field.
Let’s consider the 32 starting quarterback jobs—one could reasonably argue that a little more than half of those positions are filled by quarterbacks who are at least “good.” While a third of NFL teams don’t—and won’t—have a good starter in 2017, there may be one calling their game.
However, there’s no doubt that if Romo is to return to the NFL, he will want an opportunity to play for a postseason contender. Tell me if this scenario sounds at all far-fetched: Romo calls a Week 11 game for his network. An 8–2 team sees its quarterback go down with a season-ending knee injury. The team calls Romo. He grapples with the decision privately, and then mysteriously isn’t scheduled to call his Week 12 game. The following Monday, he’s wearing a helmet without a blue star for the first time in his career.
When he was healthy, Romo was one of the league’s best, but his lack of playoff success remains a blight on his resume. In six postseason games, he had a lower completion percentage and quarterback rating than his career averages. He has just two playoff wins compared to four losses, which are bookended by a botched hold on his part and a botched rule by the league.
Will simply calling games be enough to satisfy Romo’s football itch? His stellar (non-Hall of Fame) career doesn’t even have a conference title appearance to boast. That can’t sit well, and he’ll no more get a Lombardi Trophy by “being around football” than Mike Tirico will.
What today’s retirement news indicates is that the past five months of “where will Romo play?” will now continue over the next two years. No longer is his field narrowed to just Houston and Denver, because half of the NFL teams would take Romo today and the other half would when their starter goes down.
If you believe Romo is done for good and there’s way he would consider a return, there’s a bridge in Dallas I’d like to sell you.