IRVING, Texas — To fully understand quarterback Tony Romo’s new contract with the Dallas Cowboys, you must understand that it’s actually four different contracts.
On Friday afternoon, Romo’s agent fed to the media the blockbuster number: Six years and $108 million. That was the first number released into the ether. So it is destined to stick.
Minutes later, I spoke to Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones, the club’s point man for the negotiations. It occurred to me that the initial reports seemed vague in regard to whether the “six years” represented the entire stem-to-stern term of the agreement.
“It’s one plus six,” Jones told me.
Meaning … the one remaining year plus six additional years. Stem-to-stern: Seven years and $119 million.
Mixed into this is the $55 million guaranteed, which includes a $25 million signing bonus.
And then there is the fourth, most important, most “real” number: Four years and $65 million.
So which is it?
In a sense, depending on how you examine it, Tony Romo’s contract is actually four different contracts.
Contract 1: CAA wants the world to know it’s six years and $108 million. Why? The “108” number is a headline-getter … and those numbers, divided up, create the impression that CAA won its client a deal worth $18 million a year.
Contract 2: Jones tells me the full deal is seven years and $119 million. What’s the difference? Those numbers, divided up, reduces the annual worth to $17 million.
Contract 3: What matters most to the client? Guaranteed money, of course. This is CAA’s real win: The $55 million guaranteed is a notch behind Tom Brady’s record $57 million guarantee, a notch ahead of Joe Flacco’s $52 million guarantee and a perfect match with Drew Brees’ $55 million guarantee. (Soon to join this crowd: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and probably Matthew Stafford, with their representatives interested in headline-grabbing “100-million” stuff but with $50-million-plus guarantees the true test of the negotiations.)
Again, Romo’s “win” in these negotiations is the guaranteed money.
Contract 4: The team’s win: This is, as a practical matter, really a four-year contract worth $65 million. Divide that up and it’s $16 million a year. … and suddenly, the Romo price tag doesn’t seem quite so exorbitant at all.
How can this be only a four-year deal? The structure of the contract allows for that flexibility. There is money that can be moved around starting in 2014. (That includes ways to create cap room for the club.) There is the usual manner of escaping a contract gone bad, which includes renegotiating down as Romo gets older and theoretically less effective. There is $40 million worth of “base salary” listed in the deal (for the 2018 and 2019 seasons) that Romo may never see: he’ll turn 38 after the 2017 season; there is no expectation from either side that Tony Romo will be the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback at age 38.
The pressure is on Romo because the unwashed masses are going to stick with the $108 million number … it’s the most noted and it’s the most bloated. But the smart money says Romo will never see that money.
And due to the nature of his job as the centerpiece of a Dallas Cowboys franchise that habitually talks “Super Bowl,” the four-years and $65 million – the most important of Tony Romo’s “four contracts” — represents pressure enough.