On Friday, Tony Romo agreed to a brand-new, eye-popping contract that was the talk of the NFL. Six years, $108 million with $55m guaranteed, a $25m signing bonus, and $57m in his first three seasons were the headline terms and depending on your overall views of Romo, Jerry Jones, and the Cowboys, it is quite possible you were left wondering what made him deserve such a contract?
Often times, when discussing business that has recently been completed in the offices at Valley Ranch, we look at them through the lens of “how the Cowboys do business.” However, it would be silly to compare an unnecessary extension to Jay Ratliff with a very necessary fixing of Tony Romo’s contract situation that would have reached a very damaging head if things were not adjusted before next spring.
In this case, we must ignore all of the reckless decisions that have been made locally when it comes to managing the Cowboys cap, and simply answer some basic truths that are not Cowboys-centric, but rather fully acknowledged around the league.
Let’s start with this one.
1. Teams that have quarterbacks who are still at the top of their abilities do not let them leave unless they have the next one ready.
Go back as far as you want on this one, but I went back to 2008. With the exception of the Denver Broncos – who decided that the maintenance level on Jay Cutler was not worth the trouble – you are hard pressed to find a decent QB who could be considered in the top half of the league who changed teams without his former employer having a real grasp on what was next.
Brett Favre? Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning? Andrew Luck. Drew Brees? Phil Rivers. Even Carson Palmer? Andy Dalton.
You can find old Donovan McNabb or Matt Hasselbeck or David Gerrard, I suppose, but those teams didn’t want those guys and were pretty sure they could replace them with what they had in house or it simply didn’t matter too much.
The Cowboys have nothing close to being “the next one.” This is a systemic issue inside the organization as other teams look for QBs every April even if they don’t need them because around the league we have seen time and time again that the blocked, young backup QB is currency. He can be an easy flip for draft picks after holding the clipboard for Tom Brady or Brees for a few seasons. Ron Wolf used to take a QB just about every year despite having a 25-year old Favre (Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Hassellbeck) . Always look ahead. But, with the exception of the short-lived Stephen McGee project, the Cowboys have pretty much stood firm on the idea that they were locking up Tony Romo and throwing away the key, only getting past-their-prime backups to stand on the sideline in a non-threatening posture.
Without the next one, they had no choice but to give in to any demand from Romo’s camp. Jerry Jones cannot think about a world in which he doesn’t have a chance at a Super Bowl run. And he knows, as bleak as things might look with Romo, without Romo and with a need to find the next one on the scrap heap or free agency, he can only see 2001-2005 again in his memory.
2. As much as we make about postseason failures, there are 16 games played every year beforethat which determine salaries. In an interview with Bob Costas before the playoffs started this season, Aaron Rodgers threw out a quote that fits Romo pretty well: “I really believe you earn your paycheck during the season, then the post season is all about creating your legacy.”
This tells us a few things if we believe that. One, that Romo’s legacy is dependent on either coming through in January someday, or not really having a legacy that endures the test of time. This is not breaking news or anything. It is simply an obvious truth. We all know that in football and especially at the QB position, so much is measured and admitted based on whether or not that QB had that “oneshining moment” or big run. Does he have a ring? Even just one? If you have one, you are admitted into the club. If you don’t, you can still be considered to be a significant player, but Dan Marino is just not ever going to be considered in Peyton Manning’s class. And it simply comes down to Manning winning Super Bowl 41. Otherwise, Marino has every right to that level. But, Romo is even down another level as he has only won one playoff game. I won’t list everyone in the league who has one playoff win at QB, but allow me to assure you that it is a very lengthy list. There is no history in a single, solitary wild-card win.
But, the other thing it tells us, is just as vital. Quarterbacks earn their paychecks based on giving their team a chance to win every Sunday – from September until December. That is why they are paid. If January success determined money in this league, there would be plenty of quarterbacks living in apartments every year.
It doesn’t. What makes QB the most well-paid position in the sport is the ability to single-handidly raise the competitive level of a team. Now, one guy can’t change an entire team from lousy to Super Bowl champion, but he can take a D+ and turn it into a B- and that can cover a lot of issues around the squad that didn’t get fixed. A QB, now paid over $1 million per regular-season game, can be the deodorant on a team like the Cowboys for a lot of stinky departments. And if you don’t think Romo is that guy, then we might have to agree to disagree.
He has a career 55-38 record as starter and statistics that are well above the league average across the board. He is the fifth-highest rated QB over the course of his career, trailing only Rodgers, Brady, Manning and Brees since 2006. Like I have always said, if one of those four are available, go get them. But, since truth No. 1 at the top of the page is true, you can forget about that. Instead, you are sifting through the Matt Flynn and Kevin Kolb files if you are looking for a QB this off-season, and I don’t see their names on that list. Forget it.
So, the going rate for QBs is set. Romo has a resume of seven seasons of starting at a high value. The Cowboys had no fall-back option and he would have been highly compensated in free agency next spring if it wasn’t done.
You may not like it, but you must confess it was the only reasonable move to make. Especially given the Cowboys situation where they were already all-in for the present and not worried about the cap monster that they were feeding that will hit when Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Miles Austin all hit the end.
Romo has kept his end of the bargain if Rodgers is right about players earning their checks in the regular season by being asked to perform with a silly offensive line and at times a sub-standard defense. He has certainly been out-performed by several QBs in this league, but given their unavailability and your lack of a backup plan, this deal is what it is.
Here’s the breakdown of Romo’s contract, not including the $25 million signing bonus:
2013: $1.5 million base salary, $11.818 million cap figure
2014: $13.5 million base salary, $21.773 million cap figure
2015: $17 million base salary, $25.273 million cap figure
2016: $8.5 million base salary, $15.135 million cap figure
2017: $14 million base salary, $19 million cap figure
2018: $19.5 million base salary, cap figure
2019: $20.5 million base salary, cap figure
So, simply add $5 million to each base in the first 5 seasons and the difference is what they already owed him when this deal was done. The guarantee was basically that $25 million bonus, his 2013 and 2014 money and the cash outlay of $8 million previously in 2014-2016 for a total of almost all of the $55 million. The rest is guesswork without reading the contract (which they never let me do).
It basically is a four-year extension for $68 million through 2017. That’s $17 million a season for his age 33-37 seasons. If the Cowboys wish to continue in 2018 or 2019 with a QB who is quite old, they can, but at $40 million that will be 100 percent their decision – provided they don’t rework his deal several times between now and then. And that, of course, is an idea which (now we can return to thinking about how Valley Ranch does things) history tells us that they most certainly will do as early as next spring.
But, this overall decision was not – as some are saying – another example of the Cowboys being the Cowboys.
Signing and securing your QB when you receive above-average QB play is good business in a league where the QB is vital. Saying goodbye a year too early is a principle in place that can be applied to all sorts of transactions, but the only teams that say goodbye to their QBs are those that either don’t have strong QB play or already have a confident successor ready.
And the Cowboys, in this case, are not in either of those categories.
This particular move was necessary and needed, regardless of what the message board and sports radio callers are going to say.