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Owner-player, buddy-buddy relationships can only go so far

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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James D. Smith / Associated Press
Things are good now, but there will come a time when Tony Romo's relationship with Jerry Jones will get awkward.


Jerry Jones' much-publicized invitation to Tony Romo's wedding raises a question about just how chummy NFL team owners should be with their franchise quarterbacks.

Put aside, for a moment, the fact owners and players are three months into a labor dispute in which players are suing their bosses, as well as making critical comments about their negotiating tactics and the fact they are staging a lockout. Put aside, too, the fact Jones needed special permission from the league to attend the wedding during a time when all contact between club officials and players is forbidden.

Under any circumstances, a friendly relationship between the man who signs the checks and the man who typically cashes the biggest ones involves navigating the slipperiest of slopes.

At some point, Jones is going to be faced with deciding the time has come when he needs to make a change at the highest-profile position on his team because the production (or lack thereof) is adversely impacting the franchise's competitiveness. And that, in turn, adversely impacts the bottom line.

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No one is more keenly aware of that than Jones, who recently was quoted as saying -- in reference to the labor situation -- that he "didn't spend $1.2 billion to build a stadium and not have the Cowboys playing football in it this year." He also isn't paying Romo a base salary of $8.5 million for the Cowboys not to make the playoffs or get quickly bounced from the postseason. Regardless of how generous he is with his wedding gift, Jones will never lose sight of the fact that he is paying Romo to win -- period. And Romo and his bride-to-be should never lose sight of that, either.

Certainly, there are occasions when the bond between a team owner and a franchise quarterback becomes seemingly unbreakable, as in the case of Pat Bowlen making former quarterback John Elway a Denver Broncos club executive. But there are more instances where getting too close to the quarterback has proven problematic for the people at the top of an organization.

Arthur Blank certainly knows the awkwardness of it all. One of the more unforgettable scenes during his tenure as owner of the Atlanta Falcons was when he pushed Michael Vick in a wheelchair onto the field at Texas Stadium for the 2003 season-opener against the Cowboys. Vick, who was recovering from a broken leg, could have made the trek on crutches. Instead, he received the sort of treatment that said everything about how invested Blank was, financially and personally, in his most important player.

Four years later, after Vick pleaded guilty to dog-fighting charges and effectively ended his ties with the Falcons, Blank publicly announced the team would seek to recover part of Vick's signing bonus.

The Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, knows the awkwardness, too. They have long considered themselves to have a close relationship with Tom Brady, and in September they signed him to a four-year contract extension reportedly worth $72 million, with $48.5 million guaranteed. Then, in March, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft was asked for his reaction to Brady placing his name on the antitrust suit NFL players field against the Krafts and the rest of the NFL owners.

"He obviously feels like, I guess, that he made a business decision that was the right thing for him," he told reporters. "I'd like to think he was conflicted in making it, but I don't know that."

This is what we do know: Eventually these relationships, in terms of team and player, will end. And the breakups can be very messy, as was the case with Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers and Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers.

The other option is to be like Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, who certainly has never worried about trying to be all buddy-buddy with Carson Palmer.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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