According to multiple outlets, the Dallas Cowboys will release quarterback Tony Romo on Thursday, barring any last-minute trade offers. Romo was likely to start for the Cowboys last season, but he suffered a back injury in the third preseason game, opening the door for rookie Dak Prescott.
Even when Romo was close to returning, it become obvious that the starting job was no longer his, as Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, the best in the NFC, was named to the Pro Bowl, and took home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
In 14 seasons with the Cowboys, Romo has 34,183 passing yards, 248 touchdown passes and 117 interceptions. He is Dallas’ all-time leader in yards, touchdown passes, passer rating (97.1), and completion rate (65.3 percent). He also is third in career wins with 78 as the starter, trailing only Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
When it comes to determining his next stop, there are obvious questions about both his age (turns 37 on April 21) and his durability. Romo has not played 16 games in a season since 2012 and he has only played in a total of five over the last two seasons. When healthy, Romo was one the best quarterbacks in football, but he comes with a considerable amount of risk. Here are five teams that may be willing to sign the four-time Pro Bowler.
While executive vice president of football operations John Elway has maintained the team will go into the offseason with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch competing for the starting quarterback job, there have been rumors that the Broncos will make a run at Romo. Siemian had an inconsistent first season as a starter, as the defending Super Bowl champions went 9-7 but missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Lynch was the team’s first-round pick last year, but may not wait for him to develop while Denver’s championship window is still open.
In 2016, the Broncos again ranked in the top five in total defense and that unit remains largely intact. With the Chiefs and Raiders both making the playoffs in 2016, the Broncos may need to sign Romo just to keep pace in what has become a more competitive AFC West.
Though the Cowboys appear to have their quarterback of the future in Dak Prescott, down I-45 in Houston, the Texans need to upgrade that position, again. Last offseason, Houston thought it had solved its quarterback quandary by singing former Bronco Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract.
But the initial returns were not that impressive, as Osweiler finished with 2,957 passing yards with more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (15). He was 27th in completion percentage (59.0) and 29th in passer rating (72.2). Osweiler was benched and replaced by Tom Savage in Week 15, but got the job back when Savage was injured in Week 17 against Tennessee.
Much like Denver, Houston relied heavily on its defense, which finished tops in the NFL in yards allowed per game, as the Texans went 9-7 and won the AFC South over the Titans thanks to a better divisional record (5-1 vs. 2-4). Houston beat an Oakland team that was without injured Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr in the AFC Wild Card Game before getting thumped 34-16 by eventual Super Bowl champion New England in the divisional round. Osweiler didn’t play very well in either game.
Houston has a couple of free agents it must try and sign or replace them, but otherwise the team is in pretty decent shape. The defense should stay strong, especially if three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt can return healthy after playing in just three games last season. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line is solid and there are weapons to work with in Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and 1,000-yard running back Lamar Miller.
The biggest obstacle to Romo landing in Houston appears to be Osweiler, as the Texans already have a lot of money committed to him and the chances of finding a willing trade partner appear slim at this point. If Romo is willing to compromise on his salary demands for an opportunity to stay in Texas and compete for the starting job, there could be a match here.
San Francisco 49ers
A potential marriage between Romo and the 49ers is obvious for the simple fact that San Francisco technically doesn’t have a quarterback on its roster right now. Kirk Cousins has been the hot rumor, but that will require a trade with Washington, which will take time to work out, if it happens at all. Instead of trading for Cousins, the 49ers could try to convince Romo to sign. That would at least potentially buy new head coach Kyle Shanahan some time to develop the young quarterback he takes in the upcoming draft, instead of having to throw the unproven rookie into the fire right away.
Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract, so he’s a free agent, as is Blaine Gabbert, Thad Lewis and Christian Ponder. Even if San Francisco takes a quarterback with the second overall pick in April’s draft, which seems highly likely, the team is going to bring in at least one veteran quarterback, if not more. So why not Romo?
The 49ers have plenty of cap space, with a reported $93 million before agreeing to terms with free agent wide receiver Pierre Garcon, and quarterback is clearly at the top of their long list of needs. So paying Romo won’t be a problem. Convincing him to join a team that went 2-14 last season, has a first-year head coach, a roster full of holes and is in the same division as the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams (think nasty defenses)? That could be a problem.
New York Jets
It might be a long shot, but the Jets may be able to convince Romo to come play in the Big Apple. It is no secret that the Jets need a quarterback after last year’s starter Ryan Fitzpatrick (who isn’t expected to return) threw for 2,710 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions (third most in the league).
New York does have two young quarterbacks on their roster in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but it remains to be seen if head coach Todd Bowles has any confidence in either. After finishing 10-6 in 2015, the Jets regressed to 5-11 and wound up in last place in AFC East. Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan are both likely on the hot seat heading into 2017, so don’t be surprised if they prefer a veteran quarterback like Romo instead of waiting on Petty and Hackenberg to develop.
Not many players think of the Jaguars as a desired destination since the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007, but they do have a lot of money and no state sales tax could appeal to Romo.
Tom Coughlin, who coached against Romo a number of seasons with the Giants, recently was hired as Jacksonville’s executive vice president. He knows Romo’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, the Jaguars were one of several teams that inquired about Romo at last week’s NFL Scouting Combine.
Coughlin has not committed to Blake Bortles as the starter after he took a step back in 2016. Just a season after finishing tied for second in the NFL with 35 touchdown passes, Bortles saw that number drop to 23 this past season while tying for fourth with 16 interceptions. In three seasons with Jacksonville, Bortles has compiled a 11-34 record as the starter with a completion rate of 58.8 percent. While it is unlikely Romo will wind up with the Jaguars, it’s obvious why the team has expressed interest in him.
So where will Tony Romo wind up?
Houston makes too much sense since the Texans have the defense and skill position players to contend if Romo can remain healthy. Denver would be an excellent destination for Romo as well, but the Broncos have to address their offensive line and may be willing to let Siemian and Lynch compete for the job.
If the Texans had a healthy Romo instead of Brock Osweiler in the AFC Divisional Round against the Patriots back in January, it could be argued that Houston had a chance to upset New England on the road. With an emerging Tennessee Titans team in the AFC South and the presence of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, the Texans need to figure out a way to get Romo to sign to put them in better position to win a third straight division title.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.