Let's flashback for a moment.
The date is August 19th, 2016 and the Dallas Cowboys are about to play their preseason home opener against the Miami Dolphins. Tony Romo is the starting quarterback and he is playing in his first live game action since Thanksgiving Day of 2015.
In just two series, Romo completes 4 of his 5 passes for 49 yards and has a passer rating of 107.5. On his second drive, he leads the Cowboys down the field with ease, and Alfred Morris caps off the series with a touchdown. Romo looks efficient, and the Cowboys offense looks like an absolute machine.
Since then, a lot has changed.
Now at 13-2 behind a Dak Prescott-led offense, the Cowboys have everything in the NFC locked up going into their season finale. Since his performance against Miami, Romo has barely gotten any action, and he has yet to play in the regular season.
With just the season finale in Philadelphia to go, the debate over whether Romo should be given a chance to “knock off the rust” this week is in full swing. Many believe that Tony needs to see the field this week, in order to be ready just in case of a Prescott injury in the playoffs. Others believe that there is nothing to gain from playing Romo in this meaningless finale, and the possibility of him suffering another injury far outweighs any perceived benefits.
Personally, I tend to agree with the latter argument.
What will two series really mean?
ESPN reported that Romo is likely to play “some” of the game against the Eagles this Sunday. What “some” means is to be determined, but I have seen it suggested by DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus that it could be as little as two series.
So, once again, I ask: what the hell is two series going to mean two weeks from now?
Romo went months without getting any action, started the second preseason game, and looked exactly like his old self. Of course, the difference between the Miami Dolphins preseason week two and potentially the New York Giants in the division round of the playoffs is great. But, giving Romo 5-10 passing attempts against a 9-loss Eagles' team isn't exactly a fair comparison either.
Even if Romo was to play two quarters, or maybe even a full game (which will not be the case), I still don't believe this notion of “knocking off the rust” is valid. Romo has been in this league for a long time, if he were called upon in a playoff game, I would have just as much trust in him without seeing action Sunday as I would if he plays Sunday.
There could be some personal bias in that trust, but I only think that the trust could be hurt by playing Sunday. While Romo playing well could confirm what we already think, him playing poorly could let some doubt creep into both the Cowboys and Romo.
No Tyron Smith, No Ronald Leary, But you want to play Romo?
This is the part that gets to me. A guy that in two of his last three regular season games has suffered season-threatening injuries is going to play behind two backup offensive linemen this week, with Fletcher Cox and hungry Eagles defensive linemen looking to get after him, and people don't seem to see the problem with this.
To me, Romo suffering an injury which puts him out of the playoffs could be devastating. Not only to the team's Super Bowl chances, but also to their chances of successfully moving him in the offseason.
If Dak Prescott were to get injured and need to miss time in the postseason, any rational person would rather see Romo fill in than Mark Sanchez. With Romo, this team still has a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Houston. With Sanchez, there is a clear ceiling which would be reached prior to that moment.
In terms of potentially moving Romo this offseason, teams are already going to look at him as a risky pickup. He has suffered three major injuries in almost as many games and hasn't played a meaningful game since 2015, where he had a rough go of it. Adding another injury to that list will only make it tougher to find a trade partner in a few months.
You had your chance to see what Romo could do
And you didn't take that chance.
Last week, up by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you could have easily let Romo finish up the final few drives. That could have been his “knock the rust off” action. But, the Cowboys didn't insert him into the game. A move I was and am totally fine with, by the way.
Earlier in the season the Cowboys could have gotten Romo more reps as well. But they didn't. Now, with absolutely nothing to play for, they might put him behind two backup offensive linemen in Philly? It just doesn't seem like a good idea to me.
What if it all goes right, though?
Of course, there is always the possibility that everything goes right. Romo plays three series, throws a touchdown pass, looks efficient, and exits healthy. We are all excited to see him play, our sentimental selves are happy, and maybe we now feel more comfortable if Tony has to play in the playoffs.
With that being said, I believe the risks of him playing poorly far outweigh any benefits that him playing well would have. We should already be confident that Romo could come in and play well, regardless of how he plays in a meaningless game against a team who isn't in the playoffs.
I like to believe there is no bigger Tony Romo fan than me (even though Staff Writer Sean Martin may disagree). I have grown up with Romo as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and I wanted nothing more than for him to be crowned as a Super Bowl Champion. As much as I love what Dak Prescott is doing, and as excited as I am for the future with Dak as the leader of America's Team, there will always be a small part of me that wishes it could have been Tony Romo leading this magical season.
But the fact of the matter is, it's not.
And if Tony Romo is going to be needed sometime in the playoffs, whether because of injury or some-other unforeseen circumstance, he will need to be healthy and available to play. In my opinion, the Cowboys gain nothing from having him out there this Sunday.