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Is Tony Romo Really in His Prime?

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo flashes a thumbs-up as he walks off the field after the Cowboys defeated the Washington Redsksins 24-23 in an NFL football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/Associated Press
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 4, 2017

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
QuarterbackAgeSeasonsStartsDropbacks
1. Peyton Manning38152409,123
2. Tom Brady36121917,363
3. Drew Brees35121857,403
4. Carson Palmer34101375,166
5. Tony Romo3481084,196
6. Michael Vick33101094,144
7. Eli Manning32101515,491
8. Philip Rivers3281284,606
9. Ben Roethlisberger32101425,077
10. Jay Cutler3181043,813
11. Aaron Rodgers306873,521
Pro-Football-Reference.com

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
MetricTotalRank
Completion %63.94th
Passing yards3,8285th
Touchdowns31T-2nd
Interceptions10T-2nd
Yards/attempt7.26th
Passer rating96.74th
QBR67.993rd
Pro-Football-Reference.com

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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