The Dallas Cowboys Had No Choice but to Pay Big Bucks to Franchise QB Tony Romo

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 29, 2013

You know a move is controversial when even Donovan McNabb is firing shots. Twitter, Reddit and message boards are blazing with outrage, shock and poor amateur comedy after the Dallas Cowboys extended Tony Romo's contract in record-breaking style on Friday.

The extension itself isn't surprising, but few expected a soon-to-be-33-year-old with one career playoff victory to receive more guaranteed money than Joe Flacco, who is half-a-decade younger and was the Super Bowl MVP in February. 

Flacco became the highest-paid player in NFL history when he received $52 million guaranteed as part of a six-year, $120.6 million deal from the Baltimore Ravens earlier this offseason. But NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reports that Romo's six-year extension with Dallas guarantees him $55 million. 

Bitch and whine all you'd like, but this is all that matters: Jerry Jones and Co. had no choice. 

It's not as though the Cowboys didn't put up a fight here. The two sides had been negotiating on and off since last year. The team probably doesn't feel Romo's worth $18 million per year and $55 million guaranteed, but the market and the leverage made it so.

As I explained on Friday, there was a loophole in Romo's contract that wouldn't allow the 'Boys to use the franchise tag on him next offseason, meaning he'd be entering a true contract year without a new deal. Romo would have become a free agent without an extension, and that put the ball in his court. 

Beyond that, there's the simple fact that Romo, on paper, is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. Statistics are tangible, and they play a significant role in the negotiation process. Romo's stats are exceptional. 

This will inevitably sound hyperbolic, but Romo is one of the most underrated players in the history of this game. Don't talk to me about playoff wins. Those are on the team. Those are on the front office, the coaching staff and the 53 men on the active roster. The starting quarterback might be the most important man on each team, but he still represents only nine percent of what that team puts on the field for each offensive play. 

Romo's been running for his life behind a bad offensive line for the majority of his Cowboys career. His defenses have generally been mediocre, his offensive weapons inconsistent. 

They say he isn't clutch, but he led more fourth-quarter comebacks than any quarterback in football in 2012, posting a 102.1 passer rating under those circumstances. 

They say he fades in big games, but he's got a 22-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the last two Decembers. 

They say he's no Eli Manning, but he's actually been better than Manning in the fourth quarter, in close games and as a whole during the last five seasons. 

Dating to 2006, Romo is the NFL's highest-rated quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. He's a top-tier quarterback, and top-tier quarterbacks are impossible to turn away from. That's why the Cowboys had no choice here. 

Their hands were tied because there's no better option.

Cowboys fans complain, but that's because they've been spoiled miserably by Hall of Fame-laced teams from previous decades. They have a warped perception of what a franchise quarterback looks like. They don't realize that Aikmans, Staubachs and Merediths aren't waiting in wings. 

The reality, they have to realize, is that there isn't an available or quasi-available quarterback on the planet who could serve this team better than Romo can, and that'll likely be the case for years to come. 

Every time a supposed blue-chip quarterback becomes available on the market, there's a reason for his availability. Just ask the Chiefs, Cardinals and Seahawks, who all recently found that out the hard way with Matt Cassel, Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn. 

You don't sign or trade for franchise quarterbacks. You draft them. And even that's an extremely difficult task, even arguably a crapshoot. Ask the Bears, Jaguars and Cards. 

Tony Romo is absolutely being overpaid, but don't blame him for being in the right place at the right time. He was an elite NFL quarterback with leverage and an expiring contract on a desperate team. He's a lottery winner.

Accept it and move on, understanding that it's not your or my money to spend and embracing the fact that "America's Team" has just secured itself at the quarterback position for at least another half-decade. 


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