It seems that perceptions of Tony Romo have changed lately. He has gone from being everyone's favorite underdog, the undrafted quarterback with poise and moxie, to an unproven player that many folks are concerned about and an overhyped creation of the media.
Romo had a phenomenal season last year. If I had to point to one reason why the Cowboys made the playoffs, it would be Tony Romo. He gave the offense a breath of life when he replaced Drew Bledsoe. And not only that, he produced wins and Pro Bowl caliber statistics. He continually put his team in position to win games late, and the Cowboys won some games with him at quarterback that maybe they shouldn't have. Matt Schaub is unproven. Tony Romo has started 11 NFL games. He had a 95.1 passer rating, and even more impressive averaged a league-leading 8.6 yards per pass attempt. And while Bledsoe labored, Romo made it look easy. Romo will have to perform at the same level for a number of years for me to consider him in the class of the elite Qb's of the league. But he is not unproven.
And the media didn't create Tony Romo, or even overhype him. He did all of that on his own. He won six of his first seven starts, including knocking off the undefeated Indianapolis Colts and a Thanksgiving Day massacre over the Buccaneers that was one of the best games ever played by a Cowboys signal caller. There is also a belief that Romo fell apart at the end of the season, but in reality he only had two bad games (New Orleans, Philadelphia) and the whole team failed miserably in those games. Romo had a subpar game on the road against the Giants, but he made a huge play at the end (42 yard pass to Witten) to get the win. Its hard to call it a bad game when you beat one of your biggest division rivals on the road in December. Romo played good enough to win against both Atlanta and Detroit.
The bar for Romo was set with Matt Schaub's offseason contract for 6 years and $48 million, with $7 million guaranteed. The contract has a $10 million roster bonus after three years (March 2010) that will kick in the remaining years if the Texans choose to do so. If not, they are off the hook. I think it will take a little more than that to get Romo signed right now. Something in the neighborhood of 7 years and $60 million, with a $10 million signing bonus, which would be a good contract for the Cowboys given the production I expect out of him. If Dallas waits until midseason, and Romo performs as he did last year, he would be naive not to wait until the offseason and test the market. The Cowboys would be forced to pay him on his terms, dictated by market value. What would that be? $65 million? $75 million? Sign him now.
This is a very good topic. It gets right to the heart of the future of the Cowboys. The question is whether or not we can expect Tony Romo to be the quarterback that can take us to the Superbowl or was he just a flash in the pan. Added to that is the fact that if he is the stud QB that we need him to be, at what value can he be kept in the fold.
So my analysis is based upon the Cowboys getting the most for their dollars. Honestly, if I were Tony Romo and had confidence that I was undoubtedly a star in the making, I wouldn't want a deal done until I had proven myself at least through part of the season. If he waits and performs well, he will command more money than if he gets a deal done before the season. But from the Cowboys' perspective, getting a deal done sooner rather than later makes sense.
Assuming that Romo can get a deal right now that is somewhere in the range of Matt Schaub of the Texans, Dallas should jump on it and lock him up for the next 5 or 6 years. The price will just keep going up the longer he performs at a high level. They will never have a better opportunity for saving money while keeping him on the team.
Now I do expect Romo to be a great QB - one that can take this team to the Superbowl. For him to wait until mid-season while sitting on a 7-1 or 6-2 record, with a QB rating in the mid 90s or so will be a financial windfall for him. But there are other considerations, such as what if he suffers a major injury early in the season that affects his future prospects. Or what if he was just a cinderella story last year and is just an average guy this one. In that case, his price drops dramatically, even becoming zero in the worst case scenario.
So my opinion is that the Cowboys SHOULD get this wrapped up as quickly as possible and get him for a bargain price (relatively speaking). An undrafted QB who has been given the keys to the premier team in the NFL should be quite happy with a 50 million dollar contract. His value can always be re-evaluated in future years if he were to win 2 or 3 superbowls. Jerry Jones has tended to reward his marquee players for their efforts. I think getting the deal done now saves the team a little money (expecting Romo to produce on the field) while giving Romo security in case the worst should happen (career ending injury). To get a good deal done also shows him that the team has confidence in him and should alleviate any concerns Romo might have in that regard.
So I say they should work out a new deal and do it fast.