Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has answered almost every question about himself, certainly the silly ones.
How good of a quarterback is he really?
Is he a leader?
Can he deliver in the clutch?
Very, very good, yes and hell, yes, the corresponding responses. They have come without the flash and fanfare that used to surround all things Romo, those seeming to dissipate as playoff failures mount. There may only be one playoff victory, but this is an upper echelon NFL quarterbacking talent.
In many ways, that makes this harder to navigate. It certainly leads to much harder questions.
How much longer do you stay with a really talented quarterback who, to date, you have won a big bag of nothing with? How much more do you pay for potential? Because Romo’s contract is up after next season, and what Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has to decide is whether to invest more, more time, more money, more, whether he has an Eli Manning or a Donovan McNabb, whether to go all in or fold.
Which way that goes depends a least a little on what happens Sunday in Landover, Md., when Dallas and Washington play in what amounts to the NFC East championship game, whether anybody is willing to admit as much or not.
Romo absolutely needs a W on Sunday, needs a playoff berth in this, his ninth season, and a playoff win, too.
This is not to say the Cowboys will not extend him anyway. Jerry loves Romo. He wants to extend him, and not simply because doing so gives them much-needed cap relief. He believes in him and is reluctant to give up on him. What a win Sunday does is make it that much easier to do what they want to do.
The question was asked to me on a radio show this week: Who has more to gain — Romo or Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III?
I was surprised it was even a question. What else can RGIII possibly prove this year? He has won, as a rookie, with this Redskins team. He has been exceptional in doing so. He has been name-checked by Tom Brady, seriously mentioned as Rookie of the Year material and has the Redskins playing for the playoffs. Whatever happens Sunday, this season has been an unmitigated success.
This is absolutely not the case for Romo. And this is unfair.
He had a bumpy start to this season. Too many picks, too few W’s. When things started to fall apart for this team, literally with injuries to almost every defensive player worth a damn and figuratively, it was Romo who held this thing together. The offense was counted on to win games, to dig from holes, to provide miraculous endings to games the Cowboys had no business being in. It is a testament to him and his fighting spirit they are even playing for their playoff lives in Week 17. He kept this thing afloat.
Of course, in Dallas, where a good majority of fans love to hate him, there is still this narrative about how he is not a winner, not clutch, never going to win. It gets repeated often enough that people believe it is true, that somehow the Cowboys are not one of the lucky teams in the NFL, that there are not about 20 teams who would trade quarterbacks with them in a heartbeat.
You think the Jets would not love to have Tony Romo? Or Jacksonville? What he has not done is win in the playoffs. We can debate whether this should be laid at his feet. It is probably unfair. It is also unfair that quarterbacks always get named MVPs when it is a whole team effort, too.
Life is not fair. Deal. The thing is Romo knows it, too.
There was a game this year where Romo broke Troy Aikman’s record for something or other. It was a big deal, certainly a big deal for an undrafted kid who once was behind Quincy Carter and a very old Vinny Testaverde on a depth chart. This was a huge deal for him to be passing a talent like Aikman in anything, or so I thought.
As we talked afterward, he downplayed all of it. All he could talk about was the playoffs, winning in the playoffs, how he would be judged by the playoffs, how much he wanted to win a Lombardi for Dallas.
“I’m not trying to minimize anything,” he said. “Really, you’re just singularly focused on trying to bring a championship to this town and this organization.”
All of the records take care of themselves, felled by talent and time. All of the easy questions are already answered. What is left are the hard ones — how much longer, how much more faith is warranted. And Sunday will go a long way toward answering them.