Cool or Drool: Romo’s Days in Dallas Numbered

Dan Bisno, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This article contains references to domestic violence.

Many of the 32 teams in the NFL are struggling to fill the quarterback position. While teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns cycle through their assortment of sub-par passers and NFL busts like Tim Tebow, who moved on to pursue a career in baseball, the Cowboys are mischievously stockpiling quarterbacks in Dallas.

Since week one of the NFL season, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has led the Dallas Cowboys to an NFC-leading 8–1 start, while famed backups Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez remain benched. Many Cowboys fans had high hopes for Romo this season, but he was sidelined after fracturing his vertebrae at the end of the NFL preseason.

This follows Romo’s 2015 campaign in which he missed seven games due to a broken collarbone. Last year, he had no competition coming back from that injury and reclaimed his job as quarterback in week 11. After all, his team had lost all eight games in his absence. He had enjoyed the highest passer rating in the NFL in 2014 and was considered among the league’s most consistent veteran quarterbacks. But job security in the NFL is a fragile concept — only players like Tom Brady or J.J. Watt can really say those words with confidence. Apparently, Romo doesn’t fit into that category.

Prescott’s eclipsing of Romo is not as peculiar as it seems. Sure, he is a rookie who was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but Prescott dominated in college. He holds every passing record at Mississippi State, where he started under center for three seasons.

When Prescott stepped in for Romo at the end of 2016 preseason, he performed better than expected and gained momentum quickly. This might remind some fans of Colin Kaepernick replacing former first-overall pick Alex Smith for the 49ers in 2011 following Smith’s minor injury. But even when Smith was playable again, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh stuck with Kaepernick due to the momentum. It led to an NFC Championship appearance in 2011 and a Super Bowl appearance in 2012. Imagine that story for Dallas this season.

The Cowboys’ success cannot be attributed to Prescott alone. Tyron Smith, Ronald Learly, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free — the most dominant offensive line in the NFL — deserve the most credit for protecting Prescott. You could put Tebow behind those five goliath-sized men and he would pass for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns — maybe. They’re the same five that blocked the pathway for former Cowboys running back Demarco Murray’s league-leading 1,845 rushing yards with Dallas in 2014. In 2016, they’re poised to repeat that with rookie Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the league with 1,005 yards on the ground and 1,255 all-purpose yards. Let me reiterate that: he’s a rookie.

With Elliott tearing up the ground game in Dallas, any opposing defense has to respect the run before they crash the pocket to tackle Prescott. A distraction like Elliott is rare, but his season may soon come to an end. In July, Elliott was accused of domestic violence in Ohio. While he was not charged, his accuser posted graphic photos of her bruises online, creating much suspicion about Elliott. While that story has faded from the media, a new story is beginning to surface with the same woman regarding a February incident in Florida. Limited information is available, but according to many media reports this past week, Elliott has earned the nickname “Public Enemy No. 1” among NFL investigators.

After the terrible handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case in Baltimore, the league has made it clear that there will be no mistakes in Elliott’s case, and a first offense violation could result in a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Despite potential impending sanctions against Elliot, the Dallas front office is going to ride its two young prospects, Elliot and Prescott, as high up the ladder of success as they’ll go now that Romo is out of the picture.

At 36 years old, Romo has limited options. There is a lot of suspicion that he may land in Denver, where the Broncos were able to win the Super Bowl last year with a 40-plus-year-old Peyton Manning. Denver’s powerhouse defense with Romo’s experience would be a significant upgrade from current rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian’s average performance this year. At least, the Cowboys will have to do something about Romo’s six-year, $108-million contract, or he will be the most expensive backup in the league.

More than anything, Romo should be commended for his professionalism throughout this emotional rollercoaster. Who would have thought that a 23-year-old fourth-round draft pick could push Romo out of Dallas? But with an 8–1 record, Prescott earned it. Despite continued support for Prescott, Romo held a press conference last Wednesday where he read a prepared speech to make his position clear.

“It’s a dark place — probably the darkest it’s ever been,” he admitted to the media. As a player who has worked his entire career to play on a team like Dallas’, he is entitled to those emotions. More importantly, Romo confirmed, “[Prescott] has earned the right to be our quarterback. Dak knows I have his back.”

Unlike many players, Romo put the team before his own personal agenda. He continues to exemplify the leadership and professionalism that has been a foundation of his player reputation. For this spirit, he earns a “cool,” as the Cowboys continue to dominate the NFL with their $108-million quarterback smiling on the bench.