The business of football: Finding the right match, deal for Romo

Tony Romo made the Pro Bowl last year after a five-touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thanksgiving. He looked awesome, but as coach Bill Parcells said back then, it's not time to anoint him.

Romo finished that game completing 22-of-29 passes for 306 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, and he was sacked just once. The next five games produced six touchdowns, eight interceptions, 13 sacks and a 2-3 record. The Cowboys decided to wait on a contract extension until they knew which Romo they had.

Well, he has started the season off in great fashion. His team is undefeated, he has completed 29-of-53 passes for 531 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. And now, with each passing performance, Romo's stock continues to rise. Waiting much longer could cost the Cowboys a lot more money than if they struck a new deal right now.

The points to consider now are determining which recent quarterback contract relates to Romo at this point in his career, and whether the risk of serious injury frightens him.

I don't think the deals Peyton Manning or Tom Brady made with their respective teams is a good comparison. Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, J.P. Losman and Alex Smith are still working off their rookie deals, so they don't help set up a deal for Romo, either. Anything that resembles the average salary of a franchised quarterback, which is over $12 million a season, makes little sense since the Cowboys could get this year and all of next year out of Romo with the franchise tag and no major signing bonus.

The right deal, if one is going to be done at all, probably is short of the one signed by Marc Bulger and ahead of Chad Pennington's. Drew Brees has lived up to his contract and that might be the place to go as a reference point. He made a Pro Bowl and got a contract from New Orleans that had a big trigger after the first season.

Maybe there isn't a QB contract from which the Cowboys or Romo's agent can work from in this case. It will be interesting to see if the club and the player can work out a deal at this time. This is not as easy as it appears to be. If the deal doesn't make Romo close to the league's top eight quarterbacks, he may want to pass. And if Romo wants top-five money, the club may want to pass.

When I asked one GM what Romo is worth today he said, 'less than he wants and more than the club wants to pay.' An assistant GM had an interesting answer, saying his big performance last year was very similar to Derek Anderson's day against the Bengals last week.  What is Derek worth? Anderson completed 20 of 33 for 328 yards and the same 5 touchdowns. No one feels his performance put him in the drivers seat. Of course he meant, 'wait and see.'

My guess is a deal will be done in the next few weeks and it will contain more than $20 million in guaranteed money, and it will have provisions to escalate if he leads this team to the promised land.

PRACTICE-SQUAD STRATEGY

Smart coaches and front-office executives have used bigger money than the practice squad wage structure ($79,000) to keep players around the franchise for a long time. I remember trying to get a player off the Patriots' practice squad when Bill Parcells was the GM/coach in New England and I was with the Jets. Parcells gave his key practice-squad players the same money he gave his undrafted rookies who made the team, and he expected them to stay with him when other teams came calling. And it worked.

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It still couldn't prevent other clubs from trying to sign his players, because technically players on the practice squad are free agents. But Parcells' show of loyalty toward his practice squad players was almost always followed by them turning down offers from other teams. It was smart business. And it is a growing business trend in the NFL today.

Today the number of years a player is eligible for the practice squad has expanded from two to three under certain conditions. I heard of a player on the practice squad with a $500,000 salary. There is no limit on what a club can pay a practice squad player, but it all counts toward the team's salary cap. With NFL teams averaging over $7 million of cap space in reserve, you will see more teams paying very good money for players on the practice squad.

WILL JOHNSON TANK?

Recently signed Tank Johnson can't help the Cowboys for another six weeks, and perhaps beyond that. While he had a fine career as a defensive tackle in the Bears' 4-3 defense before Chicago released him for multiple off-field issues, playing nose tackle in the Cowboys' 3-4 could be a lot different. There's no guarantee he can handle the position, although I think he will be more than adequate.

From a football perspective, it wasn't a bad business decision to sign him. But he is a known offender and the Cowboys signed him anyway. They do have Calvin Hill, a team consultant who counsels troubled players, to work with Johnson and to insure he walks the straight and narrow. But if Johnson slips and falls again while under contract to Dallas, a number of club executives around the league think the team is setting themselves up for league discipline.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he will hold clubs to their decisions, and punishments could follow if Johnson makes another bad choice. Personally, I wish the best for Johnson and I understand why the Cowboys took a chance on him, but there's no doubt a number of teams would not have done this deal with Goodell in the commissioner's chair.

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