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Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: November 20, 11:46 AM ET
Tony Romo under 'friendly' fire

By Todd Archer
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- A few years ago outside a ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point, Calif., Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones came up with the term, "Romo friendly," in discussing his team's plans.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo has been living dangerously behind a porous offensive line, but the Cowboys can't count on any other way.
Jones' definition: "Romo friendly means let's utilize his skills to the fullest and make sure everything we do maximizes his abilities."

Unfortunately for Jones that tag has stuck and things have not been too Romo friendly, especially lately.

If Sunday's overtime victory against the Cleveland Browns proved anything, it's that the Cowboys will need Romo to play nearly perfect to win.

Romo dropped back to pass 59 times. He threw 50 passes, was sacked seven times and scrambled twice. It was the second time Romo threw at least 50 passes in a game and did not have an interception. He did, however, lose a fourth-quarter fumble that was nearly disastrous.

If the Cowboys are going to make it to the playoffs, it will be because of Romo.

The Cowboys are living dangerously that way -- which Jason Garrett knows -- but what other choice does the Cowboys' coach have?

The skill positions are certainly Romo friendly. Dez Bryant is becoming the player many thought he could be. Miles Austin is on pace for more than 1,100 yards. Jason Witten is on pace to set an NFL single-season record for catches by a tight end.

When healthy, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones are good enough to win with at running back.

Where Jones has failed in his Romo friendly bit is on the offensive line. It is a mess, and we're not just talking about the state of the line for Thursday's game against the Washington Redskins.

But let's start there. The best hope apparently is that Tyron Smith can serve as the backup tackle against the Redskins because of a high ankle sprain suffered against the Browns. That will give Jermey Parnell, a former Ole Miss basketball player, his first career start and means Doug Free, who played a part in four of the seven sacks, will remain at right tackle.

Mackenzy Bernadeau will probably start his second game at center -- ever. Derrick Dockery will play right guard and Nate Livings will be at left guard.

Maybe Bill Callahan didn't know what he was getting into when he agreed to become the Cowboys' offensive line coach/offensive coordinator.

Free has regressed sharply, looking nothing like the player he was in 2009-10, a season that earned him an $8 million-a-year contract.

The drafting of offensive linemen has been abysmal, save for Smith, whose transition to left tackle this year has only been OK. That the Cowboys are possibly counting on an undrafted free agent in the class of 2011, Kevin Kowalski, to provide some stability is a sign that things have not worked out well up front.

In 2007, they went big after Leonard Davis in free agency ($18.75 million guaranteed in 2007) and got two or three solid years out of him. This offseason, they chose to go a different route by signing guards Bernadeau and Livings to free-agent deals with $10.95 million in guaranteed money.

They were never going to make a play for Carl Nicks because of the player's past history with Callahan. They didn't want to get into the rich neighborhood for Ben Grubbs, either.

You get what you pay for in the NFL. You also get what you draft for.

Since Jones' "Romo friendly" comment, the Cowboys have drafted five offensive linemen. Robert Brewster (2009, third round) simply couldn't play. Sam Young was taken in the sixth round in 2010 and was released last year. Smith became the first offensive lineman Jones drafted in the first round during his ownership last year, but David Arkin (fourth round) has yet to play a snap and Bill Nagy (seventh round) was waived in training camp.

They didn't draft an offensive lineman last April, but Jones cooed over undrafted free agent Ronald Leary, guaranteeing him $214,000 only to see him end up on the practice squad.

The Cowboys would like to sign Romo to a contract extension, but the quarterback, who is signed through 2013, put off those talks early in the season to focus on football, not finances.

Before he entertains new talks, he might want to see a new definition of Romo friendly.

It's in his best interest.