This weekend in Phoenix, we'll find out whether or not former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley has finally made the Pro Football Hall of Fame cut. But aside from Haley and Darren Woodson, there really aren't any former Cowboys left on the Hall of Fame radar.
Already in his favor
Sheer numbers, even compared to peers
It goes without saying that Romo's statistics dwarf those belonging to most Hall of Fame quarterbacks. That, of course, is largely irrelevant because the game has changed dramatically over the course of the last half-century. Passing stats aren't comparable from era to era.
Instead, it's clear that the key to becoming a Hall of Famer is to be dominant within your era and in comparison to your peers.
Even in that context, Romo's numbers are still worthy of the Hall of Fame:
- He's the second-highest-rated passer in NFL history, with a rating that trumps presumed Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
- His career yards-per-attempt average (7.9) is higher than every active quarterback except Aaron Rodgers and is tied with Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger for sixth all time.
- Among active quarterbacks, only Rodgers and Manning have higher touchdown percentages.
- His career touchdown-to-interception ratio ranks fourth, behind Rodgers, Brady and Manning but ahead of modern-day studs Brees, Steve Young, Warner, Dan Marino and John Elway.
- Win-loss records shouldn't apply to individual players in a team sport, but the Cowboys have won 61.0 percent of his regular-season starts. That ranks seventh among active quarterbacks with at least 100 starts, ahead of Brees and Eli Manning, as well as Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Y.A. Tittle, Bobby Layne, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts and Warren Moon.
For specific context, I've taken the average spot in which the nine current Hall of Fame quarterbacks from the modern era (post-1970 merger) ranked in three key categories during their respective careers, and I've compared that to where Romo ranks in the same three areas during his NFL tenure. Then, for good measure, I've added the average ranks of several great quarterbacks who are still ineligible for the Hall of Fame, as well as several great quarterbacks who have yet to or may never make the Hall of Fame cut:
As you can see, based just on key stats, Romo should be a shoo-in.
In fact, that should also be the case if we're extending this to perceived clutch stats. Romo holds the second-highest fourth-quarter passer rating of all time, just 0.2 points back of Rodgers.
|Highest-rated active fourth-quarter passers|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||64.3||53-19||8.1||102.2|
|2. Tony Romo||64.9||72-29||8.4||102.0|
|3. Russell Wilson||60.6||21-8||7.7||97.8|
|4. Tom Brady||60.9||96-41||7.1||91.7|
|Min. 250 pass attempts (Pro Football Reference)|
And since 2009, no quarterback has been close to as good in the month of December.
|Highest-rated December passers this century|
|1. Tony Romo||66.6||39-8||8.1||110.7|
|2. Aaron Rodgers||64.7||38-8||8.3||107.1|
|3. Peyton Manning||68.2||42-18||7.9||101.8|
|4. Russell Wilson||62.4||21-7||8.5||100.7|
|Min. 300 pass attempts (Pro Football Reference)|
And while the Cowboys have won only two playoff games during his tenure, Romo's career playoff passer rating ranks fifth among active pivots.
|Highest playoff passer ratings among active quarterbacks|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||65.4||23-7||7.7||101.0|
|2. Drew Brees||66.0||24-6||7.6||100.7|
|3. Russell Wilson||61.3||10-5||8.7||96.3|
|4. Mark Sanchez||60.5||9-3||7.4||94.3|
|5. Tony Romo||61.6||8-2||7.1||93.0|
|6. Eli Manning||61.5||17-8||7.1||89.3|
|7. Joe Flacco||56.6||25-10||7.2||88.6|
|8. Tom Brady||62.4||49-24||6.8||88.5|
|9. Peyton Manning||64.0||38-24||7.3||88.5|
|10. Colin Kaepernick||58.0||7-5||8.5||87.3|
|Min. 150 pass attempts (Pro Football Reference)|
Out of his favor
Wins in January
The last "great" Cowboys quarterback, Aikman, played basically within the same era as Romo. And while Romo's stats are far and away better than Aikman's (even in comparison to their peers), Aikman was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and Romo is currently projected to be, at best, on the bubble.
The difference, of course, is that Aikman won three Super Bowls and 10 playoff games. Forget that his passer rating was just 88.3 in the postseason, because Aikman's legacy is pretty much locked in based on that dominant Super Bowl performance against the Bills in 1992 and two other solid outputs against Buffalo in 1993 and Pittsburgh in 1995.
Whether it's fair or not, team success is a factor when assessing a player's Hall of Fame resume, and that's something that would hurt Romo greatly if he were to retire today.
|Romo and post-merger Hall of Fame QBs: Playoff success|
|Pro Football Reference|
Several Hall of Fame quarterbacks have failed to win Super Bowls, but the majority of them have. All but two have been to at least one Super Bowl and only Warren Moon failed to play in a single conference championship game. Romo has done none of those things and has won fewer playoff games than everyone on the above list.
The impending queue
You could also argue that this era features more great quarterbacks than any other stretch in modern NFL history. Aikman had to compete at various points with Marino, Young, Elway and Jim Kelly, but it did seem as though there was a sharp drop-off beyond that group. Same applies to when guys like Terry Bradshaw, Fouts and Joe Montana were dominant.
But Romo has a lot of competition, and most of the guys he's competing with have won Super Bowls. You've got Brady, Manning, Brees and Rodgers, all of whom have comparable or better numbers yet have also won championships.
Roethlisberger and Eli Manning don't have Romo's numbers, but they've won a combined 18 playoff games and four Super Bowls.
Peyton Manning and Brady are probably first-ballot locks and are older than everyone else listed above, but Romo, Brees, Rodgers, Eli and Roethlisberger are all between the age of 31 and 36 and will likely retire within a few years of one another. With Kurt Warner and Brett Favre also likely to be enshrined in the near-future, that leaves nine names on the waiting list for a very exclusive club.
Considering that only seven modern-day quarterbacks have been inducted in the last 20 years, there's a good chance that even if Romo pads his stats and wins some more big games (or maybe even a Super Bowl) between now and the end of his career, he'll have to wait several years before getting enough love from voters.
Keep in mind, too, that a flawed, lazy narrative has caused the former undrafted free agent to receive a bum rap for the majority of his career already. So it wouldn't surprise me at all if Romo were to maintain his current career trajectory while still being left out of Canton.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.