Counting Down the Top 10 Players in the NFC East: No. 3, Tony Romo

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 18, 2012

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys stretches during warmups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 17, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

We're counting down the top 10 players in the NFL's most popular division. This is based mainly on what went down in 2011, but we've projected a little as well. Whittling it down to two handfuls of guys was no easy task—it felt as though a couple dozen Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins were worthy of the top 10. 

No. 3: Tony Romo, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

Romo is the best quarterback in the NFC East.

That's right, I said it (again). Regular readers are either nodding in approval or rolling their eyes yet again, while fashionably-late arrivals are surely prepared to either buy me a beer or send me to Gitmo. There's no middle ground on this one.

I'm not necessarily above trolling, but the crowd that already knows me can tell you that I've backed up this claim with indisputable facts. Here are a few of them:

- Prior to breaking his left clavicle in the sixth game of the 2010 season, Romo had completed 69.5 percent of his passes, which would have led the league. That despite the fact the Cowboys were 1-5 during said stretch. In that small window, the running game gave Romo only a single effort of 105-plus yards and the Cowboys lost despite getting 20-plus points from the offense on four occasions.

- Last year, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady posted higher passer ratings than Romo (102.5). He also had the third-highest completion percentage and the seventh best yards-per-attempt average in the league. Romo had fewer interceptions than Brees and Brady and more touchdown passes than Eli Manning. The Cowboys lost despite scoring 30-plus points on two occasions and also fell short in a game where they scored 24.

- But Romo stumbles in clutch situations, right? Not so. At least not chronically or to more of a degree than other elite quarterbacks.

With the score within seven in the fourth quarter in 2011, Romo's passer rating was 99.8 and his overall fourth-quarter rating was 104.4. Only two of his 10 interceptions came during those periods. His fourth-quarter numbers were abysmal with a small sample size during his shortened 2010 campaign, but in 2008 and 2009 Romo threw a grand total of three fourth-quarter interceptions.

- Yes, the numbers indicate that Romo is one of the league's best quarterbacks in the fourth quarter of close games, but he has a reputation as a player who isn't good in such situations. Why? I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that Cowboys are on national TV virtually every week, and thus his slip-ups are magnified.

Now, while those facts truly are rock solid, those who subjectively claim that Manning is better than Romo aren't necessarily wrong, either. That's the frustrating/beautiful thing about these types of debates. We all have different criteria for what makes a player great, and we attach different weight levels to each factor.

And in my mind, in terms of the statistics that matter most to yours truly and after applying the eyeball test on hundreds of occasions, Romo is a slightly better football player than Manning and/or Vick.
Smack dab in the middle of his prime, he has a chance to join an elite group of quarterbacks in 2012. He and Manning both have the ability to put up Brees/Brady/Rodgers-type numbers, and the pieces are in place.

With that in mind, we're prepared to safely call the lightning-rod Romo the third-best player in the NFC East.