Hot Button counter: Go with Tony Romo

Most indispensable player? It’s always the quarterback, at least for the 12-15 teams that can claim to have franchise quarterbacks.

My colleagues Calvin Watkins and Jean-Jacques Taylor got too cute in this week’s Hot Button, arguing for DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, respectively. They identified the Dallas Cowboys’ best players, but not the most indispensible one.

That’s Tony Romo, as anyone who lived through the dark years between Troy Aikman and Romo ought to know.

No offense to Kyle Orton, who would have been an upgrade over Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde and all the other Cowboys quarterbacks during the post-Aikman, pre-Romo days. Orton might be the best backup quarterback in the NFL.

But Orton isn’t a guy who gives a team a chance to get to the Super Bowl. If he were, he wouldn’t have signed with the Cowboys for $10.5 million over three years. He’d be making that much per season for one of the many quarterback-needy teams in the league.

Romo, despite his poor playoff record, is good enough to give the Cowboys a chance to make the Super Bowl. (Now, about the rest of the roster …)

And the question isn’t whether there’s a bigger dropoff from Witten to John Phillips or Ware to Victor Butler than there is from Romo to Orton. It’s about the importance of the player, which is directly related to the importance of the position.

Remember what Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said after Ware signed his six-year, $78 million deal a few years ago?

“We're certainly not going to be a team that's going to step up and pay a defensive player like a quarterback,” Jones said.

Nor are they going to pay a tight end anything close to QB money, which is why Witten agreed to a five-year, $37 million extension at the beginning of last season.

Count on Romo getting a franchise-record extension at some point before the Cowboys open training camp next year. Expect the Cowboys to commit to Romo through his 38th birthday, paying him somewhere north of $16 million per year in that time.

They’d never even consider such a contract for any other player on the roster.

When in doubt, just follow the money. In this case, it shows what we should already know: It’s all about the quarterback.