It Is Indeed Time for Tony Romo to 'Put Up or Shut Up'

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 5, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field following the Cowboys 28-18 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

At around this time last year, talk of windows dominated Dallas.

Some thought the Dallas Cowboys' window was closing, while some thought it was wide open. Others surely felt it had become one of those Las Vegas hotel windows that is permanently shut. The window conversation became so popular that Microsoft could have turned it into an ad campaign. 

One year later, logic states that if the proverbial window was indeed open, it is letting less air in now than it was before the 2012 season. That's because the team's quarterback has aged by—you guessed it—one year, and playing a children's game becomes increasingly difficult as childhood moves further into the past. 

It doesn't matter that the Cowboys nucleus is actually very young, because with Kenyon Coleman gone, Tony Romo has become the oldest player on the roster at 32 (turning 33 on April 21). And he also just so happens to be the most important player on the roster.

He's also the highest-paid player on the roster.

In the words of the team's most accomplished defensive player, DeMarcus Ware, those factors come together to create a "put up or shut up" scenario. 

"I feel like everybody is deserving to whatever is given to him, but at the end of the day, to me it's put up or shut up," Ware said on Sirius XM's NFL Radio on Thursday, per the Dallas Morning News. "I'm just being straight-up honest with you. Get out there and be productive, and that's with any player. Whatever they get, they're deserving of it. You just got to get out there and play and I know he can be and will be the quarterback that is going to be the quarterback that is going to take us to the next level."

I agree.

I've made a lot of excuses for Romo, but I think it will be difficult to defend his ability to lead this team to glory if he can't come through and help the team win some playoff games (plural, with an "s") in the very near future. 

It's not all on Romo, and we often exaggerate the onus on quarterbacks in the ultimate team sport. With that being said, Romo is now getting paid like a guy who is good enough to overcome the types of deficiencies that have strangled him and his team over the last few years. 

The Cowboys, you might have heard, have just one playoff victory in the seven years since Romo took over as starting quarterback. The fans typically pin that reality on their much-maligned signal-caller, and some of it is deserved.

Not all of it—some of it.

Pre-Romo, the Cowboys went nine consecutive years without a postseason victory. And I don't care what Gary in Fort Worth says, that 1998 wild-card loss to Arizona was not on an 18-year-old Romo. So there's more to the build-up of frustration than that.

Want a feel for how close the window is to shutting on Jerry Jones' hands? Look no further than the details of Romo's new contract, revealed by Mike Florio and Pro Football Talk.

The guarantees can fluctuate, with some only coming into play at certain stages, but Florio concludes that the deal is actually worth $65.5 million over four years. Beyond that, there's a whole lot of "fluff."

With Romo, we're looking at a four-year window that could shut a little more suddenly with a foul gust of wind or a collection of disappointing December/January performances.

The Cowboys would be swallowing an eight-figure cap hit if they decided to walk away from Romo in 2014 or 2015, but beyond that he'd be an easy cap casualty. In other words, don't expect Romo to remain on the roster in 2016 if he can't lead this team into championship range in the next three years. 

Romo will be 36 that offseason. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are still excelling at that age, and they got earlier starts than Romo. 

These things are still very difficult to project. Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, Randall Cunningham and Jim Kelly all began to decline at that exact age, while Troy Aikman and Joe Namath didn't even reach 36 in the pros. There's also Brett Favre, John Elway, Rich Gannon and Steve Young, all of whom experienced immense success beyond that age. 

Like Romo, Warren Moon and Kurt Warner started their respective runs as NFL starters later than usual. Those two made a combined six Pro Bowls after the age of 35. 

So there's a decent chance Romo stays effective for the life of his current contract. However, if he can't put up some playoff victories in the next three or four years, there's a good chance he'll have to take his arm elsewhere.