Several sources reported yesterday that Tony Romo threw about 15-20 passes during the Cowboys pregame warmups in Washington. It naturally leads to speculation about when the starting quarterback will return to active duty.
Dallas chose not to put Romo on Injured Reserve because they felt he may be able to return sooner than Week 9, which is the earliest he could've come back from IR. At the time of his injury, returning as soon as Weeks 3-4 was an extremely optimistic projection but not impossible.
Romo's return is not as simple as when he's healed enough to be able to play. There are many factors to consider, but primary are the performance of Dak Prescott, the team's record and ability to contend, and the salary cap.
The Dak Factor
In 2006, Tony Romo replaced a struggling Drew Bledsoe and never looked back. Five years earlier, Bledsoe had lost his job in New England when Tom Brady famously took over due to an injury.
There is an obvious poetry to Romo facing the same situation now that Bledsoe did. Since Week One of the preseason, Dak Prescott has been wowing fans and analysts alike and generating excitement that we haven't seen in some time.
Even Stephen Jones, a key figure in the Cowboys front office, has drawn a comparison between the Bledsoe-Brady situation and what we have now with Romo and Prescott. That was before we saw Prescott carry his poise and performance over to the regular season.
In two games, Prescott has completed 47 of 75 passes (62.7%) for 519 yards. He has yet throw a touchdown but did one run one in against Washington. Despite the lack of scoring, Prescott has a solid 83.1 passer rating thanks largely to having no turnovers.
Prescott's strengths aren't seen in the box scores but on film. He has avoided pressure and delivered the ball with accuracy when on the move. He has shown a fantastic balance of knowing when to stick to the play and when to improvise. In Washington he led the team on several long drives and executed well on many third-down plays.
Helping Tony Romo's case for keeping his job are some consistent struggles in the redzone. Prescott's newness to the offense is clear in those situations; a lack of chemistry with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten that Romo would certainly offer. Assuming Romo is able to move the offense with the same efficiency as Prescott, he will likely improve things closer to the goal line.
At this point Prescott has been very good and even great in moments, but the production isn't there to say he's claimed the job away from Romo. However, with a least few more weeks to go before Romo can play, the Dak Factor is still in flux.
Team Record & Competitiveness
The Cowboys have gone 1-1 under Dak Prescott. Where their record is once Tony Romo is healthy has a major factor in deciding on his return.
Let's say that Dallas stays right around .500 until Romo's ready. They would be the "sweet spot" for Tony to come back, ideally improving the offense enough to increase scoring and help overcome the defensive issues.
If the Cowboys suddenly reel off a bunch of wins, it will come down to just analyzing Prescott's role in the success. Did he figure out the redzone problems? Is he producing to the same degree that Romo? Even if not quite as potent through the air, is Prescott's running ability offsetting that?
Momentum is a valuable thing and Dallas won't toss it aside lightly. However, on the other end of the spectrum is a question we can't help but consider.
What if the Cowboys' win in Washington was their last one?
Washington is clearly not a very good team right now. Dallas could find that their next several opponents (Bears, 49ers, Bengals, Packers, Eagles) are tougher and end up at 1-6.
At what point does a team say "we're done" and start thinking about next season? When do risking Tony Romo's long-term health and costing Dak Prescott valuable game time make less sense than surrendering?
Obviously, a huge factor here is when Tony will actually be ready to play. If it's in just 2-3 weeks, there really isn't much room for the team to go one way or the other.
Salary Cap Concerns
Other than his own health issues, this may be Tony Romo's greatest enemy. Consider the following points:
Romo's contract is not prohibitive as of 2017. They could create $5.1 million in cap space if they cut him outright or $14 million if he's a June 1st release. These same factors would apply if Romo retires or if he's traded.
- The Cowboys need cash to keep their offensive line together. Zack Martin and La'el Collins will both be on expiring contracts next season, though they could use a team option on Martin for 2018.
- Dallas' defense is clearly still a problem and could need plenty of cash invested to make it competitive.
- We have a recent example in the Seattle Seahawks of how a championship team can be built when a star quarterback is playing on a rookie salary. The Cowboys certainly were paying attention.
These cap concerns do help Dak Prescott's case to remain the starter. If Dallas can make a smooth transition at quarterback while also freeing up funds to retain other assets and make upgrades, it could propel them towards annual contender status. Not only would they get cash now to work with, but more as the dead money from Romo's deal drops off the books.
~ ~ ~
There is only one absolute that could exist in this discussion, and that's if Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones believe that Tony Romo deserves to play no matter the circumstances. We know how close Jason and Tony are and how much loyalty and love Jerry has for his players. Those may override any other factors.
If the Cowboys are thinking with their heads over hearts, though, then they will have plenty to consider. As much as we all love Tony Romo, he can't be put above the welfare of the organization.
Only time will tell if Romo's return is something to be celebrated, or a problem to be solved.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
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