Tony Romo fumbles opportunity

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' $108 million quarterback had an opportunity to assert himself as the unquestioned leader of this franchise Tuesday afternoon.

He passed.

Instead, Tony Romo opted to play the public relations game -- and that's disappointing. But who's surprised he chose the path of least resistance?

Romo, talking publicly for the first time since he became one of the NFL's highest-paid players, was asked specifically whether he had requested more authority in the game plan this offseason.

It's a simple question, requiring nothing more than a simple yes or no.

Instead, Romo hemmed. And hawed. And talked around the issue.

Perhaps he didn't want to hurt Jerry Jones' feelings. Or make Jason Garrett mad. Maybe he didn't want to acknowledge that Garrett had lost even more control than we thought.

So what?

Hey, they're all big boys. And the truth is the truth.

Besides, we all know the Cowboys' fate and whether Garrett returns for a fourth season as head coach depend largely on how Romo performs this season.

So if Romo demands to have more input in the offense because he's a 10-year veteran with multiple Pro Bowls and a bunch of other gaudy stats, that's his right.

If he wants a larger role in the game plan because he's sick and tired of leading an offense that easily moves up and down the field and then bogs down inside the 20, he should have it. If he wants to script the first 15 plays, that's cool, too. Romo is getting the blame if the offense plays poorly.

This is Romo's seventh season in Garrett's offense. He knows it as well as the coach, so if he wants additional responsibility, Garrett should give it to him.

Romo should have answered the questions directly. Instead, he took the passive-aggressive way out.

"Well, I think just through experience, the older you get as a football player and a quarterback, I think you gain a little bit of an understanding about the game and how you can almost develop through experience over time," Romo said. "For me, I believe in some things that I think can help us win football games. You have great communication with the coaches. We all talk about things and we go from there. Everyone is just trying to help the football team win."

So is the answer yes or no?

"The older you get, you develop that a little bit as a quarterback," Romo said. "If you do some good things in the past, then that allows you to show that you can have a little more of that. That's part of the growth that takes shape.

"I know the difference in the quotes sometimes get misconstrued in the sense that Jerry just knows that I'll be in there doing some of the things that I don't think you would do normally."

What a roundabout answer.

No other big-time veteran quarterback would give such a mealy-mouthed approach.

New England's Tom Brady wouldn't have done it like that. Denver's Peyton Manning and New Orleans' Drew Brees wouldn't have done it like that, either. Nor would San Diego's Philip Rivers, the New York Giants' Eli Manning or even Chicago's Jay Cutler.

Romo is 33 years old with a contract that makes him uncuttable. He can speak his mind.

This is the type of thing that makes you wonder whether Romo has the leadership skills to ever make his team a true contender.

It matters what the quarterbacks says. And it matters how he says it. The quarterback's words send a message to the team and the city. Not the clich├ęd phrases about how much Romo loves Dallas-Fort Worth and wants to win a title for the fans or how he's better than an 8-8 quarterback and the Cowboys are better than an 8-8 team. That's the rhetoric we expect from him.

Admitting what we already knew -- Romo demanded more input into the weekly game plan -- would have been an indication Romo has matured as a leader.

Dirk Nowitzki speaks the truth about the Mavs, and it's not always politically correct. He's earned the right as the face of the franchise to be honest with fans in a respectful manner.

Romo could be the same way, if he chose. The franchise quarterback doesn't need to be politically correct. It's Romo's team.

Literally and figuratively.

And he should start acting like it. The other approach has yielded one lousy playoff win in seven seasons as a starter.