INDIANAPOLIS — Jerry Jones was hosting the annual dinner Saturday night for his coaches, scouts and other Dallas Cowboys staff members working the NFL combine, and guess who showed up?
Yes, the Washington president stopped by for a cameo visit, proving that the bitter NFC East rivalry also has some ... civility. Allen exchanged pleasantries with Jones and coach Jason Garrett, and surely they talked a little NFL shop — even if no shopping occurred.
It’s safe to say no deal for Tony Romo was discussed. For all of the gossip, rumors and speculation that flowed amid league personnel, agents and media at the combine, the buzz about a three-team trade that would include sending Kirk Cousins from Washington to the San Francisco 49ers and Romo to the nation's capital was the most preposterous rumbling of the week.
There's no way the Cowboys would position Romo for some embarrassing revenge against them after they passed his starting job along to rookie Dak Prescott last year. Beyond that, Jones is adamant that if Romo, 36, is granted his release, he simply can’t sign with Washington. In fact, a few hours before mingling with Allen, Jones sat on his luxury bus and revealed a basic understanding with Romo that would prevent the quarterback from suiting up in Washington’s burgundy and gold.
“It is implied that we will work in the best way that we can in the mutual interest for Tony and the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones told a small group of media that included USA TODAY Sports.
“We didn’t have to say it, sign it. It’s implied.”
Is that even allowable under the NFL’s labor deal? Apparently so, according to the owner of the league's most valuable franchise.
“If you know they’re going to do right, that’s very important,” Jones said. “We’ve got to abide by every league rule. We can’t have agreements without it being within the boundaries of the NFL. But when you’ve got a situation like we’ve got, we’ll do the ‘do-right’ rule.”
That’s probably one of Jones’ favorite situational references. In Romo’s case, though, Dallas might have to take a hit for the ‘do-right’ rule to work both ways. Although Jones maintains that no final decision has been made on Romo's future — stunningly, he indicated there’s still a chance that he might remain with the Cowboys — it seems that doing right by Romo could mean simply giving him his release. If that’s the solution, it would be better for Romo if it happens ASAP so he can be positioned as an option — maybe for the Denver Broncos or Houston Texans — when the quarterback dominoes begin to fall with the start of the league’s new year Thursday.
But Jones doesn’t want to just give Romo away for nothing. Maybe the Cowboys can fetch a pick, probably in the latter half of the draft, if Romo restructures his contract into an incentive-laden pact that paves the way to a trade. At the moment, he counts $24.7 million against the salary cap, a huge number that would surely inhibit a deal unless it is adjusted.
That’s why Jones, who met recently with Romo and discussed the various scenarios, is in no rush to release his longtime star. He undoubtedly hopes Romo's market will produce at least one viable trade partner — provided it is a team, presumably a contender, that Romo approves of.
“We’re in a situation right now where we need to see some things happen,” Jones said. “We need to read some tea leaves. We don’t need to be overtly doing something. We don’t need it for the cap room. We just need to see some direction.”
The Cowboys will take a huge cap hit for Romo, regardless of how this plays out. But listening to Jones, he seemed more conflicted about seeing the quarterback depart. He wistfully suggested a scenario where Romo could continue to back up Prescott — though I’d doubt that Romo, still a fiery competitor, would want to stick around unless he had a chance to compete for his former job. Yet part of Jones’ alternative scenario is driven by his sentimentality, which was fueled a week earlier during a reunion of the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl teams during his ownership.
When someone asked Jones about closure with Romo, he explained that their relationship transcends the sport and business arrangement.
Maybe so, but the friendship between owner and player sure makes things seem a bit sticky when trying to apply the “do-right” rule for all parties. That's just reality.
As Jones sees it, “Our relationship, it could help facilitate a better resolution than otherwise.”
Especially if Romo doesn’t wind up in Washington.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell