Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
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ASK THE LEAGUE: Does Tony Romo still have value as a franchise QB?
Tony Romo's emotional press conference on Tuesday signaled a changing of the guard at the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. The veteran ceded the starting job to Dak Prescott and appeared to set the stage for an eventual departure at the end of the season. With Romo expected to be on the market in the offseason, I thought I would reach out to a few NFL executives to get their take on his talents and potential at this stage of his career. Here's what I asked them and their responses:
Does Tony Romo still have a starting future? Which team outside of Dallas would be a perfect fit for him?
NFC pro personnel director: "His franchise days are over. Not because he isn't talented, but you can't trust that he is going to be in the lineup. ... Arizona is the first team that comes to mind as a possible fit. The window for him and them is closing, and I don't think Carson Palmer's heart is in it."
NFC assistant pro personnel director: "He can still play. When he is healthy, there aren't many who are better than him. He can make all of the throws and he makes everyone around him better. I don't think Jerry (Jones) wants to let him go because injuries can happen, and (Romo) still might be able to take the team somewhere that Dak can't. ... If he does go to another team, I believe it will be a 'win-now' team like the Denver Broncos or Minnesota Vikings. Those teams have the defenses and supporting cast in place to win but need a quarterback that can get them over the hump."
AFC pro personnel director: "I think he'll play somewhere next season and that will be his swan song, but his franchise days are over. ... He can play as a relief pitcher, but I don't know if he really wants to do that. Plus, he hasn't had the durability to stay healthy the past three years."
AFC vice president of player personnel: "Tony definitely still has value as a top-level quarterback, if healthy. Obviously, health will be a key factor, as well as his age, when looking at his prospects for next year. ... There are so few quarterbacks that can play winning football at a high level that he will be a valuable commodity in the offseason. I think he still has some pretty good football left in his body if he can stay healthy.
"Three teams are in dire need of a quarterback next year: Chicago, New York Jets and San Francisco. They could all draft a quarterback in the first round or go with a guy like Romo if they need a veteran bridge player to a young quarterback. San Francisco is not a great fit with Chip Kelly, but New York and Chicago (could be) because of the solid receiving corps of both teams. ... Another under-the-radar team could be Denver with their youthful quarterback situation, and a dynamic defense could make for a team like they had in 2015 with a (Peyton) Manning-type recipe for them. They do a great job of acquiring veterans to play specific roles for them, so that wouldn't surprise at all."
Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Tony Romo ranks as one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history. The former undrafted free agent ranks third in career passer rating (97.1) and is one of only 29 quarterbacks with at least 34,000 passing yards. While it is easy to dismiss Romo's success as the Cowboys' QB1 with Prescott looking like a franchise quarterback, the four-time Pro Bowl selectee is only a year removed from leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.9) and passer rating (113.2), while guiding the team to the 2014 NFC East title. Thus, there aren't many questions about whether he can still play the game at a high level when he is healthy and available to play.
With that being said, I certainly don't blame the team for sticking with the hot hand while sitting atop the NFC with an 8-1 record. Prescott has not only played winning football at the position, but he has played at an MVP level as the leader of the offense. The rookie has completed 66.8 percent of his passes, tallied a 14:2 TD-to-INT ratio and posted a 106.2 passer through nine games. Most importantly, Prescott has come through big in every clutch situation and earned the trust of his teammates.
Now, I'm sure a healthy Romo would've delivered similar production for "America's Team," but it's impossible to ignore how well the group is playing under the rookie's direction. Dallas has emerged as the best team in the NFC and coaches are reluctant to tinker with the team's chemistry in the midst of a hot streak. If the rookie's play starts to decline and he fails to make big plays in key moments, the Cowboys can always turn to the veteran. In fact, I had an NFL executive tell me that the team would be better off with Romo under center.
"Romo could make the Cowboys a more dangerous team down the stretch because he can make plays that Dak can't at this stage of his career," the NFC exec told me. "No disrespect to the rookie, but he has missed some throws that Romo would've made. They might need that playmaking ability to get over the hump in the playoffs."
In the end, the Cowboys are in a great situation with a young quarterback crushing it on the field and a proven franchise quarterback sitting in the bullpen. Considering the impact of quarterback play on a playoff run, Dallas is sitting pretty heading down the stretch.
That brings me to the Cowboys' offseason plans and whether they should jettison the veteran. I believe the team would be wise to explore the possibility of keeping Romo. In a league where good quarterbacks are hard to find, I would be reluctant to deal a quarterback who has won so many games for the franchise and still displays the skills to thrive when healthy. Naturally, Romo would have to want to stay in Dallas for that scenario to work, though, and I'd imagine the ultra-competitive quarterback might want another shot to guide a team. Thus, I would expect him to look at a "win-now" team like the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals or New York Jets. With each of those teams, he could come in as a short-term fill-in while the organization waits for a young quarterback to grow into the starter's role.
If I had to pick a perfect situation for Romo, I would opt for the Broncos or Cardinals. Each team features a nasty defense with championship-caliber talent, as well as offensive skill players gifted enough to take the pressure off Romo. With veteran coaches adept at working with older quarterbacks, I believe the veteran would thrive in either environment.