- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was trying to spend a cool night with his father while watching the Dallas Mavericks play the Miami Heat on Tuesday night when a few reporters pestered him about his recovery from back surgery.
It's a back that has most people outside of Valley Ranch worried.
Team officials say Romo's recovery is moving along and he's in the first phase of his rehab. Romo declined to comment Tuesday night when asked about how he's feeling.
Yet, coach Jason Garrett said recently his quarterback got immediate relief after the surgery. And the quarterback has been seen around the Dallas area going to games and eating out, normal things that normal people do.
But whether Romo can do the things he did before on a football field, such as elude defenders by spinning away and throwing deep passes on the run, is what's really important to a fan base starved for a Super Bowl title.
Romo's recovery from back surgery means everything to the Cowboys.
Last spring, Romo signed a six-year contract extension worth $108 million with $57 million guaranteed in the first three years of the deal. Romo enters 2014 with the second-highest cap number among NFL quarterbacks at $21.7 million. That cap figure will get reduced with a restructure.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the quarterback position takes up a bulk of a team's salary cap and he's right. There are 10 NFL quarterbacks that take up at least $15 million of their teams salary-cap space and Romo joins Jay Cutler and Eli Manning as players who eat up more than $20 million.
So when the Cowboys are confident in Romo's abilities to return from back surgery, they really mean it, because there's nobody else on the roster at his position who can produce like him long term.
Kyle Orton is a quality backup quarterback and someone who can start a few games, but the Cowboys don't have total confidence he can lead them to a Super Bowl.
Romo is the player the Cowboys need more than anybody else right now.
While Romo smiled when I joked with his father about him still being in traction, the seriousness of the matter is can he return from the surgery and be the same player he once was?
Romo underwent two back surgeries last year.
In the spring, a cyst was removed. While it was considered minor, Romo was delayed from doing conditioning and participating in offseason workouts.
Then in late December he had a discectomy, a common surgery for people who need a herniated disc repaired.
Is this too much to overcome?
The Cowboys will talk to quarterbacks at the scouting combine this week in Indianapolis and may even invite a few to Valley Ranch for visits, but there are no plans to draft one in the first round. Maybe not at all.
Defense is a problem for the Cowboys and it needs upgrades to the personnel.
The Cowboys don't believe Romo needs fixing, other than his back, because the money invested in him means they expect a championship.
The pieces are there on offense with the left tackle (Tyron Smith), wide receiver (Dez Bryant), tight end (Jason Witten) and emerging talents (running back DeMarco Murray, center Travis Frederick and wide receiver Terrance Williams) to make a deep playoff run.
Reality sets in every year with the Cowboys having missed the playoffs the last four seasons, yet the same man resides at quarterback in Romo.
While Romo is keeping his recovery a secret from reporters, his play on the field will be on display this fall and he has to deliver.