Commentary

Cowboys need a more cerebral Romo

Dallas QB will be around awhile yet, but, at 34, must learn to rely on mental ability

Updated: May 30, 2014, 11:04 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Way too many of y'all still don't appreciate Tony Romo -- and you probably never will, because he's the NFL's most polarizing player.

Still, your thirst for Johnny Manziel was embarrassing. Or sad. You yearn for the day when someone, anyone, else will be the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback.

Well, the way Romo figures it, you're going to have to wait five years to see his replacement.

Maybe longer.

So get used to the idea that Romo is your quarterback for the foreseeable future.

And that's OK, because Romo really is one of the best players in the league at ignoring the noise around him. He can do that because he really doesn't care what we think about him.

Understand, some dudes say they don't care, but walk around with a chip on their shoulder that lets you know they do. Romo really doesn't.

You know why? He's already beaten the odds, rising from an undrafted free agent to a guy with a $108 million contract. FYI: Romo and New England quarterback Tom Brady were the only primary starting quarterbacks last season not drafted in the first three rounds.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Ray Carlin/Icon SMITony Romo has thrown 90 touchdowns to 39 interceptions since 2011, but is just 24-23 as Cowboys starter.

Romo is secure in his ability, and in his belief that his career won't end with just one playoff victory. Romo believes his body will hold up after he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk; the 34-year-old said he doesn't have a degenerative back condition, which would be cause for considerably more concern about his long-term viability.

Now, it's time to examine the $64,000 question.

Can Romo position the Cowboys to play in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1995 season?

History is against him. Since the 1985 season, Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson and Denver's John Elway are the only quarterbacks 34 or older to win a Super Bowl.

And the reality is that Johnson was a game manager for a team with a great defense, and tight end Shannon Sharpe and running back Terrell Davis did much of the heavy lifting for Denver when it won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.

If it makes you feel any better, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (37), Brady (34), Arizona's Kurt Warner (37) and Oakland's Rich Gannon (37) were quarterbacks 34 or older who have lost in the Super Bowl since 1985.

Romo says he can position the Cowboys to be a contender. No surprise there.

Romo lovers will say if the Cowboys have a championship-caliber defense and a coach who would commit to a running game, he could lead Dallas to a Super Bowl.

Then again, every quarterback has a circumstance he must overcome. Brady hasn't had great receivers. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers hasn't had a good running game. We could go on and on.

Perfect teams don't exist. All outfits are flawed these days thanks to free agency and the salary cap. Some are just more flawed than others. The best of the best quarterbacks can still make their teams contenders.

Romo haters will point to his track record of notorious crunch-time faux pas and chuckle at the notion of him leading the Cowboys anywhere but down a road of disappointment.

They're jaded. Romo certainly has the physical talent to make the Cowboys a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

He's made a million fabulous plays, and by the time his career ends, he'll own every notable franchise passing record. He passed for more than 3,000 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. In the past three seasons, he has 90 touchdowns and just 39 interceptions.

All of those gaudy stats have resulted in only a 24-23 record as a starter since 2011.

The game has always been about more than numbers. You can't have an intelligent conversation about Romo's ability to make the Cowboys a contender or lead them on a deep playoff run and focus solely on his statistics -- and it doesn't matter whether you're a Romo Lover or a Romo Apologist.

Playing quarterback, more than any other position in pro sports, is about decision-making -- particularly in today's NFL, because the quarterback controls so much of the game.

Romo has been a gambler throughout his career. He had nothing to lose early, and that approach earned him three trips to the Pro Bowl and an eight-digit salary.

But if he's ever going to make the Cowboys a contender, he must become more cerebral.

He has to understand when to force a pass into coverage and when to throw it away. His internal clock must tell him when to place two hands on the ball in the pocket because it's time for the pass rush to arrive.

And he must do a better job of managing the offense. Sometimes, the clock and the score mean it's better to run the ball even though the defensive front screams change the play and throw it.

As Romo's physical skills diminish, Romo's mind must become his best asset. It's the only way he can unify the Romo Haters and the Apologists.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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