You're up, John Elway. You, too, Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien.
Tony Romo is hitting the market Thursday and suddenly, as expected, the NFL’s fresh free agent class indeed has a marquee attraction — and a whole lot of hope that this works out for No. 9 and his next team.
I mean, WWPMD: What would Peyton Manning do?
Five years ago, Manning was in a similar predicament as a proven quarterback coming off an injury and searching for a new home with the chance to win big. Lightning struck when Elway lured him to the Denver Broncos, and then it struck again when Manning road off into retirement as a Super Bowl winner by playing wing man to the phenomenal Von Miller-led defense. It all worked out.
Now imagine Elway’s pitch to Romo: Remember Peyton Manning? Let’s call Von Miller and Aqib Talib.
Romo, who will be released by the Dallas Cowboys, according to multiple reports, has played just five games over the past two seasons and hasn't started in the regular season since Nov. 26, 2015. Last year's setback was a fractured vertebrae in his back, suffered in preseason. In 2015, it was a twice-fractured clavicle.
But Romo plays football, where injuries happen when 250-pound pass rushers scream off the edge mimicking Usain Bolt. So think twice before you label the 36-year-old as some brittle, injury-prone has-been.
Yet Romo is in this position because Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick last year, emerged as his long-envisioned successor faster than the Cowboys could have dreamed. Romo should not take that personally. Joe Montana couldn’t get his job back, either, with Steve Young ascending while Super Joe mended from elbow surgery. Manning moved on after rehabbing from neck surgeries, with Andrew Luck coming around the bend.
There will be lot more fuss about Romo being a free agent now than there was the last time. The Cowboys signed him after he went undrafted out of Eastern Illinois in 2003 — two years, $540,000, according to Spotrac.com.
Now the NFL’s notoriously thin quarterback market is his to explore.
There’s always risk with an aging player. But there’s also the chance for a massive reward with Romo, a playmaker who set all of Dallas’ major franchise passing records and an experienced technician who reads defenses like a coach on the field. Sign him, keep your fingers crossed that he stays healthy, and he might even win the big one (finally) before Prescott does. And given the notion that Romo is driven more by a ring than money after cashing more than $127 million worth of Jerry Jones' checks over the years, it’s likely the team that signs him would be aided by a cap-friendly deal that adjusts for availability.
That’s not to say that Romo should come cheap. If Mike Glennon can fetch $15 million annually after serving as Jameis Winston’s backup, and Kirk Cousins can collect $44 million with back-to-back franchise tags, Romo — whose $24.7 million cap figure for 2017 is pegged as the NFL's highest until he’s officially released — should command premium dollars, too, further injuries notwithstanding.
The Broncos and Houston Texans appear to be the best bets to land Romo. The New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and even the Jacksonville Jaguars could certainly use him, but I’d doubt he’d have the stomach (or time) for rebuilding jobs ... assuming he has more favorable options.
It's only been 13 months since the Broncos won the Super Bowl. The Texans have captured consecutive AFC South titles in spite of their quarterbacking misadventures. Both teams are contenders with dynamic defenses, meaning they are not looking for an arm to win 41-38 shootouts each week.
Denver’s young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, could conceivably keep developing behind Romo. And you can believe that Elway, the Hall of Fame passer who now runs the franchise, still thinks like a quarterback.
In Houston, O'Brien and Smith, the coach and general manager, respectively, have watched their team start eight quarterbacks since 2014. So what’s another one? The four-year, $72 million deal that Brock Osweiler signed last year ($37 million guaranteed) would have to be viewed as collateral damage about now.
For Romo, the next chapter is just beginning. And he's got a chance to write a very happy ending.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell
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