Is Tony Romo Really in His Prime?

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Is Tony Romo Really in His Prime?
Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Possibly in an effort to quell Johnny Manziel rumors, the Dallas Cowboys brass have offered plenty of praise for starting quarterback Tony Romo of late. 

"Our best shot," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones at the team's pre-draft news conference Tuesday, "is a healthy Tony Romo."

Head coach Jason Garrett took that a step further at the same event, proclaiming that the 34-year-old Romo is in the "prime of his career": 

To me, he’s a very young player. He moves around really well. He hasn’t lost any mobility, ability to get away from people. I think his arm is better than ever, so we don’t look at him despite his back situation that he’s had over the last couple of years as somebody who is an old player by any means. He simply needs to rehab his back and get himself healthy and get going again.

"Very young" is an interesting way to put it, seeing that Romo is the fifth-oldest starting quarterback in the NFL, behind only future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, as well as Arizona starter Carson Palmer. 

But Garrett isn't necessarily being hyperbolic. While 34 is old in NFL terms, quarterbacks have especially long shelf lives these days. And let's not forget that Romo wasn't a Week 1 starter until he was 27 years old. 

In eight seasons as a starter, Romo has dropped back 4,196 times. Palmer is just a few months older, but he's dropped back 5,166 times in 10 seasons. Manning, Brady and Brees are all significantly older and have less tread on their tires, but they're all still going strong.

What the NFL's 30-something-year-old QBs have endured
Quarterback Age Seasons Starts Dropbacks
1. Peyton Manning 38 15 240 9,123
2. Tom Brady 36 12 191 7,363
3. Drew Brees 35 12 185 7,403
4. Carson Palmer 34 10 137 5,166
5. Tony Romo 34 8 108 4,196
6. Michael Vick 33 10 109 4,144
7. Eli Manning 32 10 151 5,491
8. Philip Rivers 32 8 128 4,606
9. Ben Roethlisberger 32 10 142 5,077
10. Jay Cutler 31 8 104 3,813
11. Aaron Rodgers 30 6 87 3,521

Among the quarterbacks above the age of 32, only Vick has dropped back less, but he's taken much more of a beating than Romo and is much more reliant on his mobility.

The point is that Romo should probably be grouped with Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers. Those four guys are considered by most to be in their prime, and Romo is within their range in terms of starts and pass attempts. 

The numbers also indicate Romo is in his prime, although it's a little tricky because he's been fairly steady throughout his career. In eight seasons, he's never had his passer rating dip below 90, but only once has he raised it over 100.

Excluding his first half-season in relief of Drew Bledsoe, his yards-per-attempt average has always been between 7.2 and 8.2. He's always completed between 61 and 67 percent of his passes and has always had at least 3,400 passing yards in complete or semi-complete campaigns. 

Where 2013 ranked among Tony Romo's six full seasons
Metric Total Rank
Completion % 63.9 4th
Passing yards 3,828 5th
Touchdowns 31 T-2nd
Interceptions 10 T-2nd
Yards/attempt 7.2 6th
Passer rating 96.7 4th
QBR 67.99 3rd

The key for Garrett is that, visually, his arm looks better than ever. It goes beyond the numbers. And we'd be silly to doubt that because Romo's yet to decline on paper, and quarterbacks often age like fine wine with experience. 

The key for us is that Romo's 31-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio from 2013 was identical to his 2011 mark, creating a tie for his career best. Prior to that, his best ratio was 26-to-9 when he was 29 in 2009. 

So while Romo might be closer to the end of his prime than the beginning of it, it's hard to argue he's beyond it. 

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