At 36-years-old and in his 13th season, Carson Palmer has just had the best regular season of his career for the 13-3 Arizona Cardinals. One state over, another great quarterback lost nearly his entire season to injury. Tony Romo’s twice-broken collarbone was the key issue this year, but before that he’s had several season of recurring back problems. Dallas Cowboys fans should look west for hope as Palmer’s re-emergence as a top performer is a great sign for Romo’s future.
Last year Palmer was anything but healthy. A nerve injury in his shoulder kept him out from Weeks 2-5 and then a torn ACL ended his season in Week 10. He was still solid when available, having a 95.6 passer rating in the seven games he played. Still, there was plenty of concern about how this aged veteran could hold up going into 2015.
Palmer hasn’t just stayed on the field this year but has been spectacular. His 104.6 passer rating is third in the NFL and higher than the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. He didn’t many any snaps due to injury, only being spelled by Drew Stanton when the Cardinals had built comfortable leads.
Most impressive is that Palmer’s success has come with a lot of suspect offensive talent around him. Larry Fitzgerald is deep into his twilight. Chris Johnson was an aged running back desperate for work. Michael Floyd is a solid but unspectacular receiver. They have nobody of consequence at tight end. Palmer’s leadership has helped this group become greater than the sum of its parts, ranking first in the NFL in yardage and second in scoring.
So you Dallas fans reading this are probably starting to think, “that’s lovely, but what does it do for us?” Well, consider that Palmer is just five months older than Romo. The fact that a guy at age 35-36 can have this kind of uptick in his level of play is remarkable. Even better, Palmer’s actual mileage is far higher than Romo’s. Palmer has been starting since his rookie season in 2004. Romo didn’t start playing until midway through the 2006 season. Palmer’s resurgence is happening with a lot more tread on the tires than Romo will have next year.
Even more specifically, Palmer has bounced back from missing lots of time and repeated injuries to the same body part with his knee. Sound like someone we know? Romo broke this same collarbone in 2010 as in 2015, plus has the chronic back issues. But now that he has a full offseason to heal and the best modern medicine has to offer, he has every opportunity to come back just as strong as Palmer has been.
Sometimes we have to remember what decade we’re in when assessing football players’ health. The old timetables for career longevity and the toll of injuries aren’t what they were in the 1990s. Sports medicine is better than its ever been and players in all sports are seeing more success coming back from even catastrophic injuries. We can only hope that Romo is part of that trend.
Now, to be clear, none of this is to say that Dallas shouldn’t be thinking about the future at quarterback. Romo’s chance at re-injury, or even something new, are higher than normal given his age and wear. Even without health problems, I could see Romo being ready to hang it up and get back to his golfing within the next few seasons. Dallas would be wise to have a legitimate prospect, and not another of their undrafted flyers, learning and preparing behind him as soon as this year.
Whatever the future may hold for the position, we know that Romo will be the guy in 2016. He’ll be there with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, who are superior to what Palmer’s working with in Arizona. He’ll have an offensive line which, as good as the Cardinals’ line has been, is stronger. As long as he enjoys a full recovery from the collarbone injury, which he has more than enough time for in the offseason, Tony Romo has every opportunity to be the league’s top-rated passer again next year as he was in 2014.
Thankfully, as Carson Palmer has shown us, it’s not an unrealistic goal.