The most interesting Dallas Cowboys news of the past week had nothing to do with whom they picked or didn't pick in the NFL draft. It was Jerry Jones' post-draft revelation about the increased level of responsibility quarterback Tony Romo now carries. Just a few weeks after signing Romo to a seven-year, $119.5 million contract, Jones said Saturday that Romo would have more input in offensive game-planning throughout the week and play calling in games. That Romo would be spending "Peyton Manning-type time on the job."
“Tony is more involved in the finished product,” Jones said. “He is more involved, unequivocally. I’m counting that in. That ought to produce some success. It will produce some success. I’m talking about the kind of plays we run, a lot of what we do offensively."
They're not messing around, either. Romo was called in before the draft to review and offer input on some of the players the Cowboys were considering, and the team used its first three draft picks on offensive players to provide support and expanded options for its franchise quarterback.
There are plenty of reasons this makes sense. Romo is an X's and O's nerd whose contribution to the offensive game planning and play calling is likely to be of value. And even if Dallas doesn't end up running the plays he prefers every time, his increased level of investment in the process is likely to help things go more smoothly for him and coach Jason Garrett on game days. This idea is not, on its face, a bad idea.
But it's worth examining what this means for the franchise in the big picture. The Cowboys are now, for better or for worse, all-in on Romo to an unprecedented and precarious extent. Signing him long-term and increasing the power he wields within the building means that Romo, now more than ever, controls the Cowboys' fate for the foreseeable future. The number of things riding on his ability to elevate the team to playoff-caliber and championship-caliber levels has increased dramatically.
Take Garrett, for example. Whether Garrett succeeds as a legitimate NFL head coach rests more than ever on Romo. If Romo isn't up to this new task and the Cowboys flop in 2013, Garrett's job status becomes more tenuous than ever. Maybe Jones doesn't fire him, because he's stubborn and has strong personal feelings for Garrett. But another disappointing year in Dallas would be grist for the theory that Jones is the only one who thinks Garrett has a future as a great NFL coach.
And there's Jones himself, who burst onto the Cowboys' ownership scene way back when as a winner of Super Bowls but has, over the past decade and a half, become the butt of fans' angry jokes and a target of their derision. The extent to which Romo succeeds as Cowboys quarterback is likely to determine whether Jones goes down in Cowboys fans' memory as a perpetually distracted, franchise-wrecking buffoon or whether he can pull a George Steinbrenner-type late-career reputation renaissance.
Romo's success or failure in his expanded role could affect the Hall of Fame chances of DeMarcus Ware. It could determine the career path of Dez Bryant. It will decide the way history views an entire era of Cowboys history -- either paving over the painful memories of flops against the Seahawks and Giants and Vikings and Redskins or allowing them to define a decade's worth of teammates, coaches and anyone else connected with Valley Ranch.
We knew when they signed him to the extension that the Cowboys believed in Romo as their franchise quarterback. He's shown potential for greatness, and their investment in him is their way of saying they believe his ability can and will override his history of falling short in the biggest games. What we didn't know until this past weekend was the unprecedented extent to which the Cowboys were tying their success to Romo as a leader and a football mind.
Given the extent of the financial investment, the importance of the quarterback position in today's game and Romo's own eagerness to participate at this level, it's not a bad move. Offensive play calling has been a problem for the Cowboys, and if you're looking to improve it, why not involve the guy who's got to carry out the plays that are called?
If it works, they'll all be hailed as geniuses during some upcoming Super Bowl week in New Jersey or Arizona or New Orleans or wherever. But in the end, it's still going to come down to the way Romo plays. He and the Cowboys can do all of the improved, streamlined game planning they want to do, but if Romo keeps throwing bad interceptions at the worst possible moments in the biggest games ... well, at this point he's taking everybody down with him.