With another season completed as starting quarterback and another year without a playoff victory, the shine is clearly off the star-bearer compared to this same time last year.
But is the criticism of Romo warranted? History suggests the best years lie ahead for Romo and the Cowboys.
Best Cowboys Quarterback Ever?
You don’t have to look beyond the quarterback fraternity of the Cowboys, which includes Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, to see the potential for greatness in Tony Romo.
Compare the numbers for Romo’s first 38 starts with Aikman’s first 39 starts and Staubach’s first 45 starts, and you quickly realize Romo is blazing a trail to Cowboys immortality if he can stay healthy.
In Romo’s two plus seasons as a starter, he has played 38 games, completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 10,562 yards and 81 touchdowns, and has compiled a record of 27-12 as a starter.
Aikman’s numbers aren’t even close. In his first 38 starts as Cowboys starter, he completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 7,082 yards and 31 touchdowns. Aikman’s touchdown percentage during this same time span was 2.9 percent, while Romo throws just over six touchdowns for every 100 pass attempts (6.1 percent).
Perhaps you are a little older and consider Staubach the standard-bearer, against which all Cowboys quarterbacks are to be measured. In Staubach’s first 45 games, he completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 5,371 yards and 41 touchdowns.
In Staubach’s 11 year career, he totaled 22,700 yards passing. Romo is almost halfway there after two and a half seasons. Staubach finished his career with a passer rating of 83.4. Aikman’s career passer rating was 81.6. Romo is tied with Peyton Manning with a 94.7 career passer rating, highest amongst active quarterbacks scheduled to start next year.
Aikman finished his 12 season, 165 game career with 32,942 yards, and 165 touchdowns. If Romo stays on his current pace and plays 150 games, he would finish his career with 40,623 yards and 311 touchdowns.
Romo Compared to a Few of the Best of All Time
The argument over who is the greatest NFL quarterback of all time will rage endlessly, but two quarterbacks always mentioned in the debate are John Elway and Joe Montana.
The strong-armed, swashbuckling Elway started his first 42 games by completing 53.3 percent of his passes for 8,152 yards and 47 touchdowns. He also threw 52 interceptions. Elway’s rating through these 42 games was 67.3.
The cerebral and deadly accurate Montana put up better numbers then Elway in his first 41 starts, but nothing compared to Romo. Montana completed 63 percent of his passes for 8,069 yards and 52 touchdowns, which earned him a quarterback rating of 86.3.
Clearly, the biggest difference between these all-time greats and Romo is playoff wins and Lombardi trophies. But even the greatest quarterbacks needed time before they won their first playoff game.
Statistically, Romo is in a class by himself at this juncture in his career. The obvious next step is to guide his team to a post season victory.
Third-Best Quarterback in the NFC East?
Playing in the brutal NFC East exacerbates Romo’s lack of postseason success.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning won a Super Bowl in his fourth season as starter, and no other quarterback in the NFL has been better at leading his team to the postseason then the Eagles Donovan McNabb.
Manning had been solid but not spectacular before getting hot in the 2007 postseason. During the Giants' Super Bowl run, Manning threw only six touchdown passes. But he protected the ball, throwing only one interception the entire post season. His postseason quarterback rating was 95.7.
McNabb is best known for his ability to make something good out of a broken play, but his best asset may be how he protects the football. In the last five seasons, McNabb’s interception per pass attempt has been above two percent only once (2.5 percent in 2005).
So not only is McNabb able to beat a blitzing linebacker one on one, he doesn’t throw the ball to the other team when making something out of nothing.
But again, both of these players are older than Romo and neither compares to him statistically in the early part of their careers.
Manning started the first 41 games of his career, completing 54 percent of his passes for 8,049 yards, 52 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 69.4.
In McNabb’s first 44 career starts, he threw for 56.4 percent completions for 7,546 yards, 54 touchdowns, and a 74 passer rating.
Time will tell what becomes of Tony Romo and his legacy as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback.
If he leads the Cowboys to their first playoff victory in more than a decade, Romo will have taken the first step toward equaling the previous great quarterbacks from Dallas.
If they fail to make the playoffs again this year, no one will care how inflated his stats appear. Romo will become synonymous with underachievement.