Cap Hell? The Real Cowboys Cost Of A Tony Romo Goodbye

They Always Call It 'Cap Hell.' But Here's The Real Cowboys Cost Of A Tony Romo Goodbye ...

I have said and written in recent days that the Dallas Cowboys' almost-singular primary focus at this moment is a simple one: Prepare rookie fourth-rounder Dak Prescott to play well enough to help beat the visiting Giants in the NFL season-opener on Sept. 11.

"Dak To The Future.'' And the "future'' is Sept. 11. That is all. Nothing else compares.

Search the streets for another backup? Yes, that's happening. Ponder when Tony Romo returns from a broken bone in his back? Yes, that's natural. (I continue to be informed that the club is prepared for 10 weeks without its star QB. If that turns out to be pessimistic? Wonderful. But this topic isn't about "optimism,'' it's about "preparation.'') Kick around the question of what happens if Dak leads Dallas to, say, a 6-1 record and then Romo is pronounced healthy and then what?

COO Stephen Jones' remarks to the media regarding a Bledsoe/Brady scenario have been bloated out of context. Jones actually said while anything is possible, he CAN'T IMAGINE Romo being Wally Pipp'ed by Prescott. The Joneses think of Tony Romo as if he's Tom Cruise in "Top Gun.'' And you don't bench Tom Cruise in "Top Gun.''

And can I be frank? When you ask me, "What happens to Romo if the Prescott Cowboys start 6-1?'' I am obliged to answer:

Well, the Prescott Cowboys aren't going to start 6-1.

There are countless gray shadows around countless corners here. OK, fine. Dallas is 6-1. But what if that happens despite Dak playing poorly? Or what if Dak gets hurt? What if Dallas signs Aaron Murray off KC waivers and he pushes Dak? What if the team's record pre-Romo's return is 5-2? Do you draw the line of success at 4-3? And hey, once Tony takes his job back ... given the fact that he hasn't finished two consecutive games since the 2014 playoffs ... shouldn't Prescott continue to prepare as if he's a "starter'' because, well, inevitably, Tony will get hurt again he will be?

"Eventually'' is coming and this is where the gray fades to black. And to white.

Besides the obstacle of age facing the 36-year-old Romo and besides the obstacle of injury facing him (and not ignoring the possibility that someday Prescott might actually be better-equipped to be the Cowboys No. 1 guy than him), there is the salary cap and the ramifications of paying Romo, keeping Romo ... or not doing so.

In 2013, the Cowboys signed Romo to a six-year, $108-million contract. "Too much'' said many, to which I responded: "It's not too much if he wins. If the Cowboys win, there is no 'too much.''' And indeed, when the Cowboys went 12-4 in 2014 captained by Romo experiencing one of the greatest QB years in NFL history, nobody complained about his salary.

The critics did, however, eventually return to trying to predict a gloomy cap-related future for a player who was involved in a series of restructures that are commonly ripped as "kicking the can'' thst sends a franchise careening toward eventual financial suicide.

And now, here we are. We're deep into the contract. The can has been kicked. Romo's retirement -- not at all his plan, in any way, any time soon -- can at least be envisioned from here, as the corner is not so sharp and the shadow is not so undetectable.

So what if? What if the Cowboys play this out via a once-semi-realistic three more seasons? Or a far-more-viable two more? Or what if the injuries mount and Dak is good and all involved decide to make 2016 the end? CHQ does the following calculations (with the help of colleagues Joey Ickes and KD Drummond, as well as an NFL-employed source with great cap expertise:)

If Romo is on the team beyond this year he costs you $24.7 million in 2017 and $25.2 million in 2018. It's worth noting that fellow in-their-30's QB Brees, Rodgers and Brady all have contracts that are scheduled to pay them in a similar $20-mil-plus range. Is that excessive? Not if Brees, Romo, Rodgers and Brady help you win. 

If Romo is a post-June 1 2017 cut,, that drops to $10.7 million of dead money in 2017 and $8.9 million of dead money in 2018. So you will have save $30 million (less than the planned $50 mil) over the two years.

If Romo is a "standard'' cut (or retirement) as a pre-June 1 move, all of the bonus rolls up into 2017, so his cap number goes from $24.7 million in 2017 to $19.6 million, with no dead money in 2018.

So it's $20 mil of money, one way or another, committed to the cap for two years or less. It's simply not that painful. And if Dak Prescott is, at the same time, costing you just $600,000 annually, you've actually made a very smart and affordable transition at the position.

Now, is $10 mil of dead money in a year "bad''? Well, it's the same sort of number teams like the Eagles, Giants, Redskins, Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks and Chiefs are dealing with this season. The Falcons are dealing with twice the number. The Saints are dealing with three times that number. (How are the "Cap-Hell Cowboys'' dealing with dead money this year? The figure is less than $1 mil, among the lowest in the NFL.)

To be clear (and again, there are some "grays'' here but some definitive "black-and-whites,'' too): The Cowboys can divorce themselves from Romo, cap-wise, and actually end up SAVING money at the position.

There are hellish things about Tony Romo's NFL window possibly closing sooner than the future Ring-of-Honor cinch might wish. But as usual, myths aside, "Cowboys Cap Hell'' really isn't one of them.


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