These days, Tony Romo is one of the old guys, a dude closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
No longer is he a fresh-faced, undrafted rookie from Eastern Illinois. He's a nine-year veteran, husband and father. And he's a linchpin for all things right or wrong with the Dallas Cowboys, depending on whether you believe Romo is part of the solution or the problem.
At age 33 next season, Romo will be the NFC's second-oldest starter for a franchise that's been the epitome of mediocre for nearly two decades.
Romo is 17-21 as a starter since 2010 and the Cowboys have missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons, but there's no question the quarterback will get a long-term deal this offseason. You can blame the Cowboys' ridiculous approach to acquiring and developing quarterbacks for that.
We're talking about a franchise that has drafted just three quarterbacks since it selected Troy Aikman with the first overall pick in 1989: Bill Musgrave in 1991, Quincy Carter in 2001 and Stephen McGee in 2009. Musgrave and McGee were fourth-round selections, and Carter, a second-round pick, should have been. The Cowboys used a supplemental first-round pick in 1990 on Steve Walsh.
Compare that to a franchise like the Green Bay Packers, which has drafted 12 quarterbacks since 1992.
Understand, the only reason a franchise gives a veteran quarterback with one playoff victory a long-term deal worth about $14 million per season is because it believes he can win a Super Bowl. To do so, Romo must defy the odds.
Since 1999, only one quarterback older than 31 has won a Super Bowl (34-year-old Brad Johnson with Tampa Bay in the 2002 season). Joe Flacco, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, is 28 years old and coming off one of the best postseasons in NFL history, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
As we all know, Romo has just one playoff win in seven seasons as a starter. No quarterback with that much longevity as a starter has fewer playoff wins. Jerry Jones is putting his faith in himself and the organization to build a team around Romo that doesn't require the quarterback to be the epicenter of the offense. Romo is leaving his athletic prime and entering the portion of his career in which guile becomes more important than arm strength and intelligence trumps athleticism.
The draft has infused the NFC with a several quarterbacks capable of leading their teams to a title.
Washington's Robert Griffin III, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Russell Wilson are each 25 or younger. Atlanta's Matt Ryan is 27 and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who already has a Super Bowl ring, is only 29.
That's a lot of competition, and we haven't even talked about quarterbacks such as Carolina's Cam Newton, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman and St. Louis' Sam Bradford. None is older than 25. Heck, even Chicago's 29-year-old quarterback Jay Cutler is still in his prime.
A few times each game, the Broncos asked Elway to deliver one of his magical plays -- and he did. Early in his career, the Broncos asked Elway to do all of the heavy lifting and he was still dynamic enough to get Denver to three Super Bowls, which is why he's in the Hall of Fame.
No one is comparing Romo to Elway in terms of talent -- only in terms of what their teams ask each player to do.
A couple of years ago, Romo was easily one of the top four quarterbacks in the NFC.
No more. And it's not debatable.
Now do you understand -- aside from the obvious -- why it's going to be difficult for Romo to take the Cowboys to a title?