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Free Agent Tony Romo Worth the Risk? Teams Weigh Playoff Upside, Injury Downside

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 9, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 1: Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field after the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 27-13. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Every team that needs a quarterback has studied Tony Romo, both during the season and recently. They knew the day of Romo's release was coming, so they waited...and waited...and waited.      

They watched film, and the film don't fib. They saw a capable, talented player who can lead a franchise. In recent years, he's cut down on the mistakes and interceptions. The belief, especially from two teams—the Broncos and Texans, I'm told—is that Romo can lead a franchise to a title.

Both franchises, I'm told, believe they can win a Super Bowl with Romo. This doesn't mean they will sign Romo, or even publicly acknowledge they want him, but I know for certain both believe Romo can lead them far.

There is that one glaring asterisk when talking about Romo, and that asterisk will be one of the most important factors throughout not just the pursuit of him, but of all free agency.

"He's brittle and can fall apart at any time," said one team official, who is on one of the franchises that might be in the hunt for Romo.

The Cowboys have decided to release him, according to multiple reports. This ends a 14-year career in Dallas where he won a lot of games (78-49 as a starter), threw some picks but was a good player and a solid teammate.

Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

Now comes the hard part for Romo and teams. The general consensus I hear in speaking with team officials, including some not in the bidding for the quarterback, is that he could be the prize of free agency. There's just that one problem:

"He could lead teams to a Super Bowl," one NFC general manager said, "or he could break his leg in the opener. That's what teams have to wrestle with when deciding if they want to sign him."

Romo is 37 in April and has seen the field in just five of the past 32 regular-season games the Cowboys have played. Last year, he broke his back. Two years ago, he twice shattered his collarbone. But all of that is balanced with how the Cowboys, with Romo, were one historic Dez Bryant catch/non-catch from upsetting Green Bay and reaching the NFC Championship Game in January 2015 for the first time in 20 years.

In the coming days, Romo and his suitors will continue to dance. The veteran QB will take his time evaluating his options, someone close to him said, and teams will do the same in turn. Romo wants to make sure he goes to a place where he has a chance to win big, and teams need to decide if he's worth the risk.

The main franchise everyone believes is the front-runner to sign Romo is Denver. But this is far from a certainty. John Elway, who runs the Broncos, drives a hard bargain. He gets players at the price he wants, and if his desired price isn't there, Elway has zero expletives to give.

If Romo's salary demands are too high, Elway could easily turn away. To be clear, though, what I'm told is that Romo isn't interested in a huge contract. Romo has saved his money, has plenty of it and wants to make one more run at a ring.

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The Texans are the other possible franchise, though team officials around the league aren't as certain as it seems people like me in the media are. They're not certain Houston will admit it was wrong about signing Brock Oscutler, er, Osweiler.

Yet Romo in Houston makes too much sense for the Texans not to pursue him. The team is ready-made for a good veteran. It has one of the top three defenses, a good running game and went to the playoffs with Brock Oscutler, er, Osweiler.

A Texans team with Romo is a Super Bowl-capable team. A Denver team with Romo is one as well.

I'm told Romo wants to keep an open mind and hasn't ruled out any franchise. I find that hard to believe. I just don't see Romo in Cleveland, but really weird things happen in the NFL all the time.

Most of the team officials I interviewed believed Romo would end up in Houston. Which means he'll end up in Denver.

It's likely one of those two teams. Again, free agency always has a surprise or two, and sometimes what seems easy to predict turns out to be wrong, but that's where we are.

There's one last thing on Romo.

It's rare for teams to root for a free agent. They normally keep emotional distance for obvious reasons. But for maybe the first time I can remember, NFL people are rooting for someone: Romo.

He's viewed as a good man who was always a good representative for the NFL and treated everyone around him well. This wasn't the case with many free agents (that I can remember).

We are seeing the end of a solid quarterbacking run in Dallas. Not a spectacular one. But a good one. 

Now the question becomes, where will Tony Romo go next?

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.