At least a dozen NFL teams can’t feel very comfortable about their starting quarterback, both now and in the foreseeable future, with the Browns, Jets, 49ers and Bears most obviously among them. Those teams, a collective 6-25 this season, would surely do anything for an exceptional franchise quarterback … even if they so obviously bypassed the opportunity to do something about it in the offseason.
A surplus in Dallas may provide another opportunity for those teams to resolve that issue soon.
The Dallas Cowboys were a little less passive about insuring the future at quarterback, and now they have two players at the position worthy of starting and likely both are capable of taking a team to the playoffs. What the Cowboys do next with those players will shape the next few years, but most certainly will have a drastic effect on the rest of this season.
Dallas is 6-1 with rookie Dak Prescott, a fourth round pick out of Mississippi State that all of the four aforementioned teams passed on multiple times in the draft. Prescott isn’t just “managing the games” either. His 99.7 passer rating is seventh in the NFL, his 8.0 yards per attempt is fifth, and he’s secure but not shy, throwing just two interceptions on 221 attempts. He also produced a lot of those numbers without number one receiver Dez Bryant or franchise left tackle Tyron Smith. The Cowboys have gotten incredible production from fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (first in the NFL in rushing yards) but Prescott’s responsibilities are heavier, and his results more remarkable.
So then how should head coach Jason Garrett respond to the return of 2014’s leader in passer rating, Y/A, and completion percentage: Tony Romo?
With awkwardly closed arms.
Jerry Jones continues to reiterate that Romo will remain on the bench against Cleveland next week strictly because of his health. Romo broke a bone in his back in a preseason game, and his timetable to return was around 10 weeks; That’s roughly where we stand right now, so it’s possible that Romo really can’t play just yet, but either way, the organization realizes now that it wouldn’t be the wise move. No matter how well Romo could play, his time on the bench should have more value to Dallas long-term.
Despite Prescott not having his best game against the Eagles in a 29-23 overtime win in on Sunday night, he did lead them to their sixth win in seven games and had his second game-winning drive of the season. Cynical fans always think their team can do better at quarterback, but the Cowboys can’t hope to do better at QB than they’re currently doing with Prescott so why should they revert to the 36-year-old with a back injury when the 23-year-old with 13 total touchdowns and no back injury is playing so well?
In 2001, New England had to scramble when Drew Bledsoe – who they had just signed to a record contract – was injured in Week 1. They turned to Tom Brady and didn’t look back, winning the Super Bowl that season and then trading Bledsoe to the Bills for a first round pick. In 1956, the Baltimore Colts signed Johnny Unitas, a former ninth round pick of who couldn’t even make the Pittsburgh Steelers as the number three quarterback because coach Walt Kiesling had no belief in him, and that year he filled in for injured starter George Shaw. The Colts stuck with Unitas after he went 3-4 as a rookie starter, and he won the MVP award the following season.
Refusing to go with the young guy can also have adverse effects: The Atlanta Falcons were less confident in a young Brett Favre in 1991, so they traded him to the Packers after the season and went with the more experienced Chris Miller. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tired of Steve Young after two seasons and traded him to the San Francisco 49ers.
There are perhaps less regrets for the teams that let the veteran get away. The San Diego Chargers allowed Drew Brees to leave in 2006 and while he became a legend with the New Orleans Saints, replacement Philip Rivers is also building a Hall of Fame resume. The Rams were worried about Kurt Warner ever returning to form when he was injured in 2002 and opted to go with Marc Bulger, and while Warner eventually started playing well again, he may have never done so for the Rams.
Bringing it back to Dallas, it’s clear what the Cowboys have to do now.
They need to keep Romo on the bench, where he can’t hurt himself any further this season. If Prescott needs to come out because of injury or sudden poor play, Romo will be there; Even Bledsoe eventually helped the Pats win the Super Bowl in 2001 when he replaced an injured Brady against the Steelers in the playoffs. Once the season ends, Dallas can start getting some much-needed salary relief: Romo is owed $24.7 million in 2017 and the Cowboys are currently set to be $9.4 million over the estimated cap space. As long as he’s healthy, the team should be able to find a trade partner because many teams have too much cap room and as noted before, there are plenty who could use a quarterback.
This is a rare situation where perhaps everyone can end up winning. The Cowboys, Dak Prescott, the team that trades for Romo that desperately needs a great quarterback who could have a few more years left, and of course, Romo. Okay, maybe going to Cleveland is not ideal, but the Cavs and Indians have proven that the city itself may not be cursed.
Perhaps Romo can be the latest gift of good fortune. His current team doesn’t need him anymore.