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Tony Romo uses contract leverage on Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo had all the leverage. He took advantage.

The Dallas Cowboys desperately needed salary-cap space, and owner Jerry Jones knows what it's like not to have a quality quarterback. It's not like there ever was a risk of Romo leaving Dallas.

So Romo's agents did what agents have done to Jones for years: They got him to overpay. Just not by as much as everyone thinks.

Romo received a six-year contract extension worth $108 million, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. The total deal is for $119.5 million over seven years, when you include his $11.5 million salary for 2013. The extension includes $55 million guaranteed and a $25 million signing bonus, according to Rapoport. Yes, that's more guaranteed money than Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco received despite the Super Bowl champion being five years younger.

Like so many big deals, the fine print on this contract will tell the story. NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Romo will earn $57 million in the first three years of the contract. That's an average of $19 million per season. In addition, $15 million is guaranteed for injury, with $7.5 million guaranteed on third day of the 2014 league year and $7.5 million guaranteed on the third day of 2015 league year, Breer reported. It's elite quarterback money that puts Romo in the neighborhood of Flacco, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The key number here: Three years.

After that, all bets are off. Romo will turn 35 in 2016. And the Cowboys then will have another big decision to make on his future.

This contract will draw a lot of snickers from people pointing out Romo's lack of playoff success, but that's not necessarily fair. Romo would do very, very well on the open market. Other points to consider:

1. Romo never will get close to the end of this contract. It doesn't really matter what he's being paid from 2017 to 2019, when he is between 37 and 39. He will have been released or his contract will have been restructured by then.

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2. With that in mind, the structure of the contract is what really matters here. Lost in the shuffle following Flacco's signing: The reality that he truly signed a three-year contract that will be revisited in 2016. My strong guess is that Romo's contract will be similar. The only money that really matters comes in the next three years.

$108 million sounds crazy, but the number ultimately is phony. Few players get near the end of deals like this. The length of the contract allows the Cowboys to save as much cap room as possible in the present, pushing any pain into the future. This is what the Cowboys do.

3. Rapoport reported Thursday that the Cowboys would not be able to use the franchise tag on Romo after the 2013 season. That report puts this contract in a different light. They had to make a deal now because their entire offseason was held hostage until it happened. The Cowboys literally had free-agent visitors they couldn't immediately sign this week because of cap concerns.

4. For all the jokes that will be made at Romo's expense, it's worth noting that he's consistently a top-10 quarterback. Top-10 quarterbacks are hard to find and extremely valuable. Romo has been a better, more consistent quarterback on average than Flacco over the last five years.

Judging a quarterback solely based on playoff success is ridiculous. It's the argument of the lazy. By that logic, Tom Brady was a better quarterback in 2001 than he was in 2012. Put Romo on the 2007 New York Giants, and they win the Super Bowl.


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Jones overpaid his star player because, again, that's what the Cowboys do. Big, shiny numbers get attention. Big contracts are self-fulfilling prophesies. They justify Cowboys hype.

But let's not get carried away. Romo is not Roy Williams, Ken Hamlin or even Doug Free. Romo is an above-average starting quarterback, whether or not fans believe it. You can live with overpaying for a quality quarterback.

We just don't trust Jones to support Romo. It's all the other overpaid Cowboys who are the problem.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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