Locking up quarterback Tony Romo to a new extension remains important to the Dallas Cowboys not only for the immediate salary cap relief, but also for ensuring the long-term health of the game's most important position.
Talks to accomplish such a deal appear to be heating up.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday at the NFL Owner's Meetings that Cowboys fans need not worry about how close the two sides are to agreeing to the extension, via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Probably what concerns them about a timetable is the fact that they don't know that it won't be weeks out...But I'm not concerned that we are looking at a drawn out thing here. I'm not concerned that is going to in any way hamper any decision we want to make personnel wise over the next few weeks.
Asked to elaborate on if his statement meant the Cowboys were close to a deal with Romo, Jones said, "I'm okay with [saying] that."
Jones knows that getting an extension completed with Romo remains the Cowboys' top offseason priority.
Romo's current cap number of $16.8 million in 2013 ($11.5 million base, $5.3 prorated signing bonus) continues to restrict what Dallas can do to improve a roster that finished 8-8 last season. According to Hill, the Cowboys have just $102,000 in cap space for 2013, the lowest remaining in the NFL.
Restructuring Romo could potentially save millions on the cap and allow Jones to both pursue other free agents and eventually sign draft picks. Dallas simply doesn't have the money to do either as it currently stands.
The continuing battle against the salary cap has kept the Cowboys quieter than usual this offseason.
However, Romo's extension goes beyond just money.
Locking up the 32-year-old quarterback ensures the Cowboys have a more-than-capable player at the game's most important position for the foreseeable future.
Romo, who will enter his seventh season in Dallas as the unquestioned starter, threw for a career-high 4,903 yards in 2012. He also tossed 28 touchdowns, the fifth time he has thrown at least 25 in a season.
Maybe more importantly, Romo finished with a passer rating over 90.0 (90.5) for the seventh consecutive season, despite facing as much pressure as any NFL quarterback.
@troyaikman correctly says Cowboys must protect Tony Romo, who suffered 72 sacks past two seasons, hit even more while throwing too much— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) March 4, 2013
He has just one playoff win, and his penchant for throwing interceptions is something that could be eliminated, but Romo is still a quarterback who has consistently produced the numbers of the top players at his position.
Jones has no reservations in locking up Romo with a substantial deal, and he's not afraid to expect more out of the quarterback, telling Hill he's not paying Romo to "be a bus driver."
The point that I do want to make, if we make this kind of commitment, is that I feel good about making it. I feel good about where he is in his career. I feel good about the time he has spent with (head coach) Jason Garrett and (quarterbacks coach) Wade Wilson. But with (new offensive coordinator) Bill Callahan involved, I do expect some new wrinkles, so to speak, relative to what Tony Romo can do.
Of course, Romo continues to have leverage in these negotiations. He has one final chance to take a big bite out of the money apple, and he should make the most of that opportunity.
Jones and the Cowboys know that too, but the venerable owner sounded more like the two sides were getting closer to an important deal than fading further apart.
And while Romo might have the leverage, both sides know that accomplishing the deal sooner rather than later is beneficial for both parties.
Romo will get his financial security, while the Cowboys should receive massive salary cap relief that can open up the opportunity to improve the roster. And maybe most importantly, Dallas will get its most important player under contract with the team long term.
The best way for Jones to keep the Cowboys competitively viable is ensuring Romo remains the starting quarterback in Big D. It appears he's close to making good on that commitment.