Despite coming off a career season for Tony Romo, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys front office are faced with the difficult task of finding his successor.
The Cowboys all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns is under contract through the 2019 season, but due to his age and injury history it's unlikely he'll be the quarterback of America's Team for four more seasons. Romo, who has already undergone two back surgeries, will turn 35 years of age in April. Dallas needs to find a quarterback who can develop under Romo's wing and be ready to lead this offense when the time comes.
The only other quarterbacks on the roster are Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan. Weeden is a former first round pick who boasts a lousy 5-16 career record. His underwhelming performance in a week 9 loss to the Cardinals left much to be desired.
Vaughan is a Texas native who signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M. He currently holds school records for passing yards and touchdowns. Scouts at last year's combine were impressed with his size (6'5”, 235 pounds) as well as his leadership qualities and intangibles.
Vaughan is an intriguing option and it's clear the Cowboys see potential in him as they kept him on the roster throughout the season. Tony Romo proved to the world that an undrafted player can make a name for himself and Vaughan may be presented that opportunity as well.
The Cowboys staff will also look to the draft for a future quarterback. Dallas has more pressing needs to fulfill this draft, particularly on the defensive front and secondary, so look for them to spend one of their later picks (rounds 4-7) on a quarterback.
Last year the Cowboys were shopping for a quarterback and owner/general manager Jerry Jones had a strong interest in Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Dallas had the opportunity to grab him with the 16th overall pick but wisely chose offensive guard Zack Martin. Now Martin is an All-Pro offensive lineman and Manziel has checked himself into rehab.
The most important thing is for Dallas to draft smart, as they have in recent years. Never underestimate Jerry Jones' propensity to trade up in the draft, but guys like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are beyond their realm.
There are many talented quarterbacks in this year's draft, such as Bryce Petty, Garrett Grayson and Blake Sims – among others – who could be an option for the Cowboys if they slip in the draft beyond their projection.
It's difficult to imagine anybody other than #9 under center but that time will come eventually and Dallas must be prepared. Despite a playoff victory and MVP chatter for Romo in the 2014 season, there are no guarantees in the NFL. Tony Romo is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league but another injury to his back could be the end of a storybook career.
Just as Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe, and Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre, and Tony Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe, somebody will replace Tony Romo.
Life beyond Tony Romo is on the horizon for the Dallas Cowboys, and they must be prepared.