Where Tony Romo plays in 2017 is arguably the hottest topic in the NFL right now outside of the conference championship games. It’s almost assured that Romo will play for a team other than the Dallas Cowboys next year. Far less certain, though, is how he’ll wind up there.
Given the size of Romo’s deal there are some major salary cap ramifications for the Cowboys. No matter which way this goes they will have some significant cap space tied up in Romo for at least another year or two, even while he’s no longer on the roster.
The key for Dallas will be weighing the overall gains and deciding which scenario works out best in the long run. Let’s review the two basic options.
The Dallas Cowboys Trade Tony Romo
Don’t let ESPN’s ignorant talking heads fool you; trading Romo’s contract isn’t that complicated. If his contract is traded as-is, Romo’s new team would only be accountable for the base salary of $14 million in 2017.
That is a bargain if you think Tony Romo is a guy who can help you compete in the postseason, which is the only reason any team would even want him. Plus, you’re not liable for any dead money if you want to move on after 2017. It’s really a great deal for the new team.
We always think of trades in terms of the draft picks, since this is far more common in the NFL, but there’s also potential for Tony to be moved for another player. Dallas has plenty of needs this offseason; pass rushers, defensive backs, right tackle, or even a wide receiver, just to name a few.
If you can find a team with the right surplus of players at one position and a desperate need at quarterback, that could be your best value. Given how few teams may be interested in Romo, though, it’s a less likely scenario.
The Dallas Cowboys Release Tony Romo
If Dallas releases Romo outright then they save about $5 million off of his $24 million cap hit in 2017. That’s not a lot of money but it certainly helps. The big savings would come in 2018 when the remaining $19 million in dead money drops off the books.
The problem with that is it’s the same scenario whether Romo is released or if he’s traded. Your facing the same dead money and cap situation without getting a draft pick or some other asset in return. There would still be some benefit for Dallas, but it would ultimately feel like a loss compared to other options.
This is where the June 1st provision comes into play. If the Cowboys designate Romo as a June 1st cut then they can add an additional $9 million to the 2017 salary cap; a total of about $14 million in immediate cap relief. It would defer about $10 million into 2018 as dead money, but by then you may be in a better position to deal with it.
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After seeing the Minnesota Vikings give up a first-round pick for Sam Bradford last year, it’s hard to say anything with certainty about what Tony Romo is worth. The Houston Texans were arguably a competent quarterback away from upsetting the New England Patriots last Sunday. Could they be willing to gamble a high draft pick on possible Super Bowl contention?
There’s an old saying in real estate that a house is ultimately worth what someone was willing to pay.
If you can land a first or even a second-round pick for Romo then that probably outweighs all other options. Those are fantastic assets, especially when your team has been as successful in the draft as the Cowboys have lately.
However, if the best you can get for Romo is a mid-round pick or later, is that worth your financial flexibility? Would you be better off making him that June 1st release and having an extra $9 million to spend on free agents this offseason?
The oft-forgotten aspect of the June 1st provision, though, is that the cap space doesn’t actually become available until that calendar date. Even if you cut Romo in March as a designated June 1st release, you won’t get that cap space to spend during the prime free agency market.
That’s not to say it wouldn’t still be useful. Dallas could use those funds to sign rookies and perhaps get Zack Martin and La’el Collins signed to long-term extensions. Any unused cap space does roll over to the next season, too.
The Cowboys are no longer in the time-crunch of trying to win during the Tony Romo window. They can afford to think more long-term now that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and the young offensive line are the nucleus of what should be a perennial contender. Perhaps having immediate cap space isn’t as concerning now as it was during the Romo years.
That said, having been so close to their first NFC Championship Game since 1995, you know this organization isn’t going to rest easy. The Cowboys want to get back in that position next year and break through. That’s going to take some immediate help on defense, perhaps more than any one draft pick could get you.
Only Dallas’ front office knows for sure what they covet more between draft picks and cap space. They have to weigh those things against who’s actually available in free agency and the draft; a complex analysis that involves their own private opinion of each player and prospect.
Right now we can only speculate as to where they see the most value. However, in a few months, what they ultimately do with Tony Romo could tell us a lot more.