The Cowboys signed quarterback Tony Romo to a shockingly controversial contract extension Friday. The shock is that it is controversial.
The inalienable truth about the NFL is it is always about the franchise quarterback.
If you have one, you overpay him.
If you think you have one or the possibility of one, you pay him.
If you don’t have one, you are constantly scrambling.
This most resembles 1:30 a.m. at the bar. Last call is long gone. The lights are about to come on and your friends already left. This is how Buffalo ends up signing Kevin Kolb, a failed bit in both Philly and Phoenix. And this is why Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recommitted to Romo even as many screamed he could do better.
Soon after details of what is now a seven-year, $119.5 million contract for Romo emerged, none other than Donovan McNabb took to Twitter to vent his spleen.
“@donovanjmcnabb: Tony Romo 6 yr 55 million dollar extension. Wow really, with one playoff win. You got to be kidding me”
The 55 mil referenced is guaranteed money; second only to Tom Brady in size and more than Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco just pulled down in Baltimore. This feels rich coming from McNabb, winner of exactly zero rings and losing QB in Romo’s lone playoff W. The man also has a point — quarterbacks (himself included) often get paid out of fear and desperation, hope and belief.
It is a scary world without a franchise quarterback. Or it has been.
The thing is the franchise quarterback might be dying, or is dying if Colin Kaepernick and his read-option brethren have anything to do with it.
Yes, expect to be pistol-whipped by copycats next season. The read-option quarterback is the new hot thing. What they are not is the next generation of Brady, Manning, Brees.
They either will be a fad, or kill the idea of the franchise quarterback altogether. And this is not just my opinion, this is exactly what Saints coach Sean Payton intimated when we talked at the NFL owners meetings.
For the read-option style of quarterbacking to take over, the idea of the franchise quarterback has to die.
“I think (injury attrition) is the question,” Payton said when asked about the longterm viability of the read-option in the NFL. “If the offense continues with the curve and success it has had, you may see a team with that style with one or two quarterbacks.”
If this sounds crazy or impossible, remember there used to be a time in the NFL where teams believed they had to have a franchise running back. This is how the Cowboys (OK, mainly Jimmy Johnson) got the Vikings to give them all of those picks for Herschel Walker.
What has happened in the ensuing 20 years is a devaluation of the position that is almost complete. The position is no longer viewed as it once was. You can win without a great one. You can overpay for it. You crave depth more than anything. And all of this is because injury is so prevalent there.
The best guy going at the position, Adrian Peterson, is proof of why there are franchise quarterbacks and running back by committee. It is damn near impossible to stay healthy there. They take too many hits, and in an increasingly faster game, played by increasingly bigger and stronger men, this is death.
This is also the reality of guys like Kaepernick and Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, to name a few. The challenge is twofold: How to keep them upright? And how to replace them when they aren’t?
“The challenge is long-term quarterback health because he is not technically a ball carrier,” Payton said. “I get all of that. But you see running plays with holes as big as this table that are not there when you are playing a conventional under-center attack. I don’t think it’s going away.”
And if not, what is is the franchise quarterback.
You will need two in that world, and in that world Romo never gets that deal.