NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Jane Slater reported that the Cowboys have told Romo that he will be released, according to a source informed of the decision. When the new league year starts Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, Romo will be free to sign with any team he chooses.
The timing allows Romo to find a new home faster and could create more potential landing spots for him. Rapoport reported Wednesday the Broncos and Texans are "very interested suitors," meaning they will be fighting over a quarterback for the second straight offseason. The Texans "won" the battle to sign Brock Osweiler last March and they are looking for help once again.
Rapoport expects Romo to take a Peyton Manning-style visit tour in the coming days, so don't necessarily expect a quick signing. The release also indicates that the Cowboys were not confident in their ability to inspire any trade compensation for Romo, especially under the terms of his previous contract.
Romo was set to make $14 million in 2017 with the Cowboys. He might wind up making that money this season elsewhere, but any contract will likely build in protections for injury. Romo didn't even last three series in the 2016 preseason before suffering a compression fracture in his back. Romo also broke his clavicle in 2015 and has not played more than two games in a row since the 2014 season. He's a huge injury risk for any team that signs him, having also undergone previous disk surgery, suffered two transverse process fractures, two broken clavicles and had a cyst removed from his spine.
That injury history spells out the inherent risk in signing Romo. He will turn 37 years old in April and there is no guarantee he will last even half a season. The Texans could be more attractive to Romo because they have a better offensive line than Denver, and it's possible Romo would not have to uproot his family in Dallas. The Broncos, meanwhile, have a championship defense and pedigree. Signing Romo despite his risk makes particular sense for Denver because the team doesn't necessarily need Romo. They have two promising young quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch and could survive if Romo was hurt once again. The Texans have a more pressing need at quarterback but less cap space and are already forking over $16 million guaranteed to Osweiler in 2017.
The drama surrounding Romo's next destination mirrors some of the ups and downs in an incredible Cowboys tenure. He's one of the most overexposed yet underrated quarterbacks of the last decade. There's no doubt he's been a top-10 quarterback for almost all of his career and was often let down by his front office and defense. One of the most aggressive quarterbacks in football, Romo ranks second all-time in net yards-per-attempt, behind only Manning. His one regular season series in the 2016 season ended in a touchdown, showing off Romo's typical flair for the dramatic.
Yet most people remember Romo best for the heartbreaks, for his four playoff defeats, for the Week 17 do-or-die games where the Cowboys fell short. It is probably not lost on Romo that the perfect landing spot for him would be Dallas, where a historic offensive line and running game could minimize his exposure to injury. Instead, Romo heads to the unknown, another chance to rewrite the final chapter in a star-crossed career.