Tony Romo's value to Cowboys never higher or more apparent


IRVING, Texas -- Now you see all that Tony Romo means to the Dallas Cowboys.

Not just offensively but everywhere. For years, he has carried the burden of the franchise. Even last year, when the Cowboys were running the ball so well, Romo made the crucial plays at the big moments.

For all that DeMarco Murray did, Romo was the most valuable. When there were cracks, Romo filled them. When there were shortcomings, Romo compensated.

Romo has the ability to mask the offensive shortcomings and maximize what the defense can be. He was able to fix things so well that people didn't know they needed fixing. Playing quarterback is not just about running the play called. It's about getting the offense into good plays and out of bad plays.

The Cowboys aren't paying for being too reliant on Romo, but they are seeing what life without Romo will be like in the next two, three or four years. Whoever replaces him in 2017, 2018 or 2019 cannot be expected to do all Romo does.

The Cowboys have put up a respectable 48 points in two games without Romo. Scoring 28 in the first half against Atlanta should have been enough for the Cowboys to win. Scoring 20 versus the Saints wasn't great but was good enough. Asking for more from Brandon Weeden would not be prudent. He has played about as well as can be expected, whether fans want to accept that or not.

But Weeden can only do so much.

What makes Romo elite -- yes, elite -- is how he can get the Cowboys into the right plays. His experience makes everybody else better, from the receivers -- regardless of whether Dez Bryant is playing -- to the offensive line. Remember the game-winning drive against the New York Giants in the opener? It came with Bryant hurt.

It's not about how magical Romo is when things break down. That is the easy stuff to see -- the highlight plays that make everybody's jaws drop. That’s offense almost by accident.

Romo likes to say his greatest gift is his ability to process information quickly and act. Early on in his career, he processed things so quickly that he would get himself into trouble. He would make the great play and also the poor play.

Now he can process things and almost always make the correct decision.

It's checking to the right run or right pass, depending on the defensive look. That helps the offensive line get angles on the front in the run game and helps them get an edge in pass protection. Although Romo does not predetermine where he goes with the ball before the snap, he can anticipate coverages and blitzes that allows him to get the ball out more quickly.

All of that makes the defense better because the offense can sustain drives. In the past two weeks, the Cowboys have converted just four of 18 third-down attempts. With Romo, the Cowboys converted 10 of 23 third-down tries.

Weeden does not have that ability, and that's not a knock on him. There are maybe 10 starting quarterbacks in the NFL who have that ability. Teams are paying kingly sums for just potentially princely quarterbacks.

Cam Newton has superhuman abilities but will make silly decisions. Is Ryan Tannehill "the guy" or just a guy for the Miami Dolphins? Colin Kaepernick appears to be more style than substance. Andy Dalton is off to a great start, but the true judgment for him will be in the playoffs.

The Cowboys go how Romo goes, the way the Patriots go the way Tom Brady goes, the way the Packers go how Aaron Rodgers goes, the way the Broncos go how Peyton Manning goes.

Romo must feel helpless on the sideline with his left arm in a sling because of a broken collarbone. He is 35 and understands there are only so many realistic chances left to define his career with a Super Bowl.

The season is by no means over for the Cowboys. Romo could possibly be back for the final seven games of the regular season.

In the meantime, the Cowboys must somehow make sure those games will matter. If they can't, Romo might not be able to save them.

All involved should appreciate Romo even more than they already did. The past two games certainly demonstrated Romo's value.