Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and his wife, Candice Crawford, welcomed a baby boy into the world on Monday, per ESPN. This should have been a happy start to the week for Romo, but, alas, the newest Cowboy to become a father continues to face scrutiny regarding his window as the team’s starting quarterback.
However, Romo is surely concerned more with the wellness of his newborn child than the recent hot air, and rightly so.
In a live chat on Monday, Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News replied to a question about whether Romo could be replaced as or forced to compete for the Cowboys starting quarterback job, saying:
You're suggesting that missing the playoffs has been largely Romo's fault to this point. I don't absolve him of all blame, but I think Romo is good enough to get teams to the playoffs on a regular basis if that team has decent talent. Dallas' overall talent has been overrated for years. The problem now is that the Giants and Eagles are better. The Redskins aren't, but in two or three years if RG3 develops, they could be. Romo turns 32 this month. I suspect if he has less than a Pro Bowl season in 2012, the Cowboys will start thinking about more serious competition than Kyle Orton.
Cowlishaw makes some interesting, yet debatable points in this reply. One will have to break each one down.
How much blame does Romo deserve for the Cowboys missing the playoffs?
To address the first point—which seems simpler than the others—Romo shares some blame, although not a large proportion, for the Cowboys missing the playoffs. He did blow two games: the opening week loss to the New York Jets and the Week 4 meltdown against the Detroit Lions.
However, other losses fall more on the backs of the defense and others. The blown double-digit lead against the New York Giants in Week 14 was the result of defensive lapses. Popular opinion might lead people to point fingers at Romo for missing Miles Austin on the next-to-last series, but Romo didn’t let Eli Manning march the Giants down the field.
Also, defensive stands in the last two games would have given the Cowboys a better chance of making the playoffs. Romo’s last stand in the last half of the season against the Giants went all for naught as the defense fell asleep after Romo rallied Dallas within seven.
Cowboys fans unfairly pin a large amount of blame on Romo, while the defense, as well as the offensive line, deserve more blame. Moreover, to take missing the playoffs as an indictment on Romo’s starting status is even more unfair.
How do the Cowboys compare in terms of talent to the rest of the NFC East?
Cowlishaw seems to make a hasty comparison of the talent surrounding Romo to that of the rest of the division. At that, it’s hard to tell what Cowlishaw is comparing. Is he comparing the talent of the NFC East teams of 2011, their rosters as they stand now or what he believes they will look like at the start of the 2012 season?
Since he’s including Robert Griffin III in this comparison, he seems to be comparing the rosters as he believes they’ll look when the season begins. However, he might be doing this based on what the teams’ talent levels were like in 2011 since he refers to how he feels the Cowboys’ overall talent has been overrated.
Above all, Cowlishaw is neglecting a principle referenced by Leonard Koppett in his 1980 book Sports Illusion, Sports Reality—one often neglected by many online writers. In a chapter on the limitations of sports journalists, Koppett mentioned something called “Langsam’s Laws” from the 1980 book by Arthur Bloch Murphy’s Law, Book Two.
Langsam’s first law—everything depends—is especially relevant here. First, no one knows if the Redskins will pick Robert Griffin III. Many presume they will, and that it was the Redskins’ plan after trading up to the No. 2 pick in the draft. However, if they don’t, many football people will have egg on their faces, including Cowlishaw.
Second, to follow on the previous point, how the teams’ talent levels compare depends on what happens in the draft. If the Cowboys—or the other teams in the NFC East, for that matter—have an amazing draft that addresses all of their needs and plugs in terrific prospects, the comparison shifts.
Third, no one knows how the draftees or the signees will fit on the roster before training camp begins. Questions may reasonably abound about whether Brodney Pool or Mackenzy Bernadeau will start for the Cowboys. Similarly, people may wonder who—whether John Beck, a draftee like Robert Griffin III or anyone else—will start at quarterback for the Redskins.
Tentatively, one can look at what the rosters currently look like (although none of them is complete) and try to divine which at this point looks like the best. Eli Manning seems to lead Tony Romo in a dead heat in the contest to see who’s the best quarterback in the division, although that needs to be addressed in greater depth in another piece.
Not one team in the division has a pleasing offensive line. Romo, Manning, Beck, Rex Grossman and Michael Vick all were hit hard last season.
The Giants had the best defense in the division. Their front four was a constant threat last season.
LeSean McCoy is the best running back in the division by a long shot.
The Cowboys had the best kicker in the division last season in Dan Bailey.
The Giants had the best receiving corps with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz posing the greatest threat to break out from week to week of all the NFC East receivers. The Cowboys follow with two very talented starting receivers in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and the best healthy tight end in the division in Jason Witten.
This is how it looks now. The whole comparison could change in a couple of weeks once the draft picks are revealed, and once again during the preseason when teams’ starters become apparent.
Should a Pro Bowl appearance decide whether Romo deserves his starting job?
The final point made by Cowlishaw is even more unfair than the talent comparison between NFC East teams. First, making the Pro Bowl is a flimsy proposition. Many players drop out of the Pro Bowl because of injury (major or minor), participation in the Super Bowl or other reasons. This delegitimizes the Pro Bowl.
Also, it brings into question how to use a Pro Bowl appearance to measure a player.
Second, to say that Romo should have a Pro Bowl-caliber season is to call for questionable comparisons. If the question of whether he was a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2011 is weighed, then a few items come to mind. Romo threw for 4,184 yards, while each of the three NFC Pro Bowlers threw for at least 4,600.
However, he was third in completion percentage and fourth in QB rating, which reflects favorably upon him in this discussion. He was passed over for Cam Newton, a choice made more for recognition of a nice rookie year than a truly outstanding year. That shouldn’t count against Romo.
Anyway, if Romo’s numbers in 2012 are marginally below those of Pro Bowl quarterbacks like some of his numbers were in 2011, he shouldn’t be lambasted.
Now, if Romo has a terrible year, that’s a different story. If he throws more interceptions than touchdowns, fails to complete 62 percent of his passes and blows a few games, then it’d be permissible to call for competition.
Cowlishaw’s claim—as well as any similar expectation—is entirely unwarranted. To say that it’s Pro Bowl or bust for a quarterback is to put an unreasonable burden on the player. It’s like saying CC Sabathia needs to be a Cy Young winner, or the New York Yankees need to find a new ace.
Falling short of such an accomplishment isn’t a terrible offense. Besides, Cowlishaw fails to propose where this competition—other than Orton, at that—would come from. Such competition is hard to bring along.
Conclusion: Cowboys fans, whether they want to, need to trust in Romo
Many Cowboys fans might like to call for Romo’s replacement. However, this is wholly unrealistic. These fans fail to give Romo credit for what he has accomplished and for developing as much as he has. Romo was one of the most efficient passers overall in the NFL in 2011, something that may be dismissed by his dissidents.
Also, anti-Romo fans may dismiss his career-low interception rate set in 2011, which showed how much he had developed his accuracy.
What they may also miss is his consistent development of pocket presence in his career.
Developing a new starting quarterback takes time. Grooming a rookie can take a couple years. Similarly, if a quarterback were signed to compete with Romo, that player would take year to develop in the offense before bringing it to a playoff-caliber level.
Rather than pining for the next Drew Brees, Cowboys fans should embrace what they have right now: a certifiably high-end (although not elite) quarterback. Romo is the Cowboys’ guy for at least two years, and Cowboys fans need to trust him.