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Cowboys Playing A Dangerous Game With Romo

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Tony Romo's new contract comes with more than just job security, as the Cowboys have promised he'll have a bigger hand in play calling and game planning. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Tony Romo's new contract comes with more than just job security, as the Cowboys have promised he'll have a bigger hand in play calling and game planning. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Tony Romo will probably retire a Cowboy. There it is, for better or worse. The future of the franchise neatly packaged into seven little words.

Fresh off an unremarkable draft highlighted by a questionable first-round trade, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones attempted last week to justify his club’s biggest offseason deal — Romo’s extension that guarantees $55 million over six years — by ascribing him more responsibility in impacting draft decisions, calling plays and engineering game plans.

The first part has already been answered. Despite having good options at safety (Eric Reid) and defensive tackle (Sharrif Floyd) with the No. 18 pick, the Cowboys moved down, taking offensive lineman Travis Frederick in exchange for a third-round pick ultimately used on WR Terrance Williams. In between, they took TE Gavin Escobar, shocking fans and media alike by leaving the defense untouched.

Props to Jones for smartly rationalizing both the suspect draft and Romo’s whopping extension with one explanation. But, unfortunately, the logic of the premise is fundamentally flawed. Since 2006, Romo’s first year as a full-time starter, he’s averaged more than 4,000 passing yards per season — excluding 2010 when he missed 10 games — and his completion percentage has only once been below 63 percent. His throwing motion is fluid and his release fast, he makes plays on the run, he’s not afraid to hang around the pocket and he’s attuned to the intricacies of the game.

What do those traits have in common? They can be analyzed via observation and empirical evidence, and Romo, in turn, can be evaluated as such. The same can’t be said of the characteristic the Cowboys are now demanding he exhibit in full: poise under pressure. It’s purely psychological and, if anything, it’s the one facet of Romo’s on-the-field saga that leaves ample room for skepticism.

The irony of all this is befuddling. On one hand, the Cowboys are lobbying for their quarterback by invoking the obvious: his stats, mechanics and familiarity with the offense. On the other, they’re defending their moves by appealing to the one aspect of Romo’s game that continually leaves fans disappointed: his poor play in crucial situations. The decisions to make him the franchise quarterback and increase his role will inevitably intensify the scrutiny on Romo. He doesn’t have a history of thriving under those kinds of circumstances, but that’s exactly what Dallas is asking him to do by publicly asserting his heavier involvement in the offense.

Future implications? If the move backfires, Jason Garrett’s job will likely be the first major casualty. Dez Bryant’s career arc could be re-directed when he becomes a free agent in 2015. And for Jones, the puppet master pulling the strings, the success or failure of this decision will either cement the notion that his ownership prowess died with the turn of the millennium, or bolster his chances for redemption in the eyes of fans.

For now, those concerns can be shelved. As veteran Jason Witten recently pointed out, Romo is acutely aware of the expectations he faces, and the statement regarding his new, “Peyton Manning-type” involvement is an exaggerated description in an overblown storyline. There’s some truth to that, and that perspective is fine for now. But just remember this claim in December when the season is on the line. And remember that for a quarterback who’s 33 and has a 1-5 career record in do-or-die games, $55 million really is a lot of guaranteed money.