Tony Romo wrote that "Concession-Not-Retirement Speech'' himself ... putting him in the top 10 percent of wordsmiths in the Dallas Cowboys press conference room on Wednesday.
Seriously, it was, and is, powerful stuff. (Here's the entire transcript and here's our news story on the event.) And it comes with some important backstory and some important projections going forward.
To wit: Inside Tony Romo's Next Move: The Dallas Cowboys ... And Beyond - The 10 Motives Behind His Powerful Words
10) Sincerity In A Cynical World
As a young backup player, Romo was playful with the media ... and playful in public, too. Once he became a "star,'' he became more protective of his privacy, and more protective of "The Star.''
That's why transparency was so important on Tuesday. Not nakedness. Just transparency, a glimpse into the mixed emotions of "his team'' being 8-1 when it isn't really "his team.''
“To say the first half of the season has been a emotional would be a huge understatement,'' Romo said. "Getting hurt (with the broken back on Aug. 25 in Seattle in preseason) when you feel like you have the best team you’ve ever had was a soul-crushing moment for me. Then to learn it’s not three or four weeks, but 10, is another blow. And through it all, you have a tremendous amount of guilt on having let your teammates, fans and organization down. After all, they were depending on you to bring them a championship, that’s what quarterbacks are supposed to do, that’s how we’re judged. I loved that, I still do.
"But then here you are sidelined without any real ability to help your teammates win on the field. That’s when you’re forced to come face-to-face with what’s happening.''
Folks, if you understand anything about class and competitiveness, you must -- even if you are the harshest "Romo hater'' -- back down.
9) The Concession To Dak
"It’s a dark place,'' Romo said of being sidelined. "Probably the darkest it’s ever been. You’re sad and down-and-out. And you ask yourself why did this have to happen? It’s in this moment that you find out who you really are and what you’re really about. You see, football is a meritocracy. You aren’t handed anything. You earn everything. Every single day. Over and over again to prove it. That’s the way that the NFL, that’s the way that football works.
"A great example of this is Dak Prescott and what he’s done. He’s earned the right to be our quarterback – as hard as that is for me to say – he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record and that’s hard to do. ... It’s the people that helped me along, when I was young. And if I can be that to Dak – I’ve tried to be – I will be going forward.
"I think Dak knows that I have his back and I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately, it’s about the team.''
This is a wildly selfless act. How many other pro athletes do we see who, with their job taken away, or lost, hold a press conference to yell, "This is bullshit!''?
Romo didn't do this because the organization forced him to. He didn't do this for himself. He did it for the heir to his throne. Incredible.
8) Covering The Grenade
But there is another motivation here, and the organization did have something to do with this. Romo could've played this differently, by announcing a demand for a competition, or by pouting, or by taking his ball and going home.
But the Cowboys needed him to do something here: They needed him to throw his oft-broken body onto one more grenade: The grenade of a "QB controversy.''
"I think you all know something magical is happening to our team,'' he said. "I’m not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team – by becoming a constant distraction.''
And in one motion, Romo both "stepped aside'' and covered that grenade.
There has never been a QB controversy with this team all year, despite what outsiders tried to create, tried to imagine. Romo's actions won't guarantee there might not be a QB controversy in the coming weeks (more on that below). But this is the best available grenade cover at this time.
7) Future Pressers?
A low profile is the plan. Romo is the No. 2 QB today, with Mark Sanchez sliding down to No. 3 (and going nowhere else, I don't believe.) He's got a job to do, and it doesn't include daily media sessions around his locker. Oh, he'll visit casually with a few of us. But after the Tuesday statement, he feels he's said plenty.
By the way, the same motivation is why Romo changed his mind about doing a five-minute speech and then taking questions. He dumped the latter part of that plan fearing he might get drawn into messages that were beyond his control.
In doing so, he controlled the message. Brilliantly.
6) What's Next, Immediately?
We live in a "recency bias'' world. So we assume, having watched Dak lead Dallas to a miracle win at Pittsburgh, that what happens next is ... more miracles.
Football, and life, don't really work that way.
Dak could get hurt. Dak could struggle. Remember what Romo said about this being a "meritocracy''?
That applies to the rookie Prescott every single day, just as it applies to his backup.
5) Romo As A Coach?
Jerry Jones tossed this out there on 105.3 The Fan this week:
“Tony is going to have serious options, and he is a young man relatively speaking, and he has the ability to be a great offensive coordinator.”
Some took this as some sort of pre-retirement announcement, or of Jones tossing dirt on Romo's football coffin.
Jerry is simply projecting here. And that's fun, but ...
Romo, at this time, has no intention of retiring.
Something could happen on the field to change that -- what if he gets broken in half? What if he discovers he sucks? -- but that's not the plan.
4) Other Options
Tony Romo is a wealthy man. He's a devoted family guy. He will, post-career, have "serious options,'' Jerry is right about that.
But having talked to many of the people who would have knowledge of this, I can tell you that Romo's options and dreams in football go way beyond being an assistant coach (why not aspire to be a head coach or a GM?) and that they go way beyond football, too.
In Dallas, there are the footsteps of Staubach in business and of Aikman in business and broadcasting. I promise you there is a carte blanche offer waiting for Romo from FOX, CBS, ESPN and the NFL Network. "Serious options,'' indeed.
3) A New Team And The Cap Ramifications
In the simplest terms, an offseason divorce from Romo would give Dallas $30 million of salary relief with $20 mil still owed to the cap in dead money (split and "paid to the cap'' over two seasons, $10 mil each in 2017 and 2018 -- a small price to pay for what the Joneses tried to do here with a Pro Bowl QB).
But it can get far more complicated than that ... in ways that help Dallas even more.
I'll do more research here, but let's say Romo and the Cowboys privately decide he'll retire. There might be a way to reduce his deal after the season, this changing his big base salary ... and then he publicly retires. And financial relief comes with that.
The biggest problem with this scenario? Romo, 36, gives every indication that he still "burns'' to play football.
"If you think for a second that I don’t want to be out there then you probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning,'' Romo said. "That hasn’t left me. In fact, it may burn now more than ever.''
If Romo leaves the Cowboys via trade, that cap relief is harder to get. But a pick in the trade would be beneficial. And if it's what Tony wants, I promise you the Joneses will try to fulfill those wishes.
So ... a trade to where?
Romo could in theory help "pick his spot'' by declining a deal to, say, Cleveland, or by making sure the Joneses don't engineer such a deal. And what would he pick? A contender who is a QB away. A city, or a region, in which he has family ties.
The Denver Broncos, with Romo at QB? That's a top-three NFL team. The Los Angeles Rams? Romo has family and business ties there. The Houston Texans are close enough to Dallas, regionally, to make this list. The Chicago Bears are close enough to Tony's native Wisconsin to make it, too. The New York Jets? The Minnesota Vikings?
This gets emotional for Cowboys fans, but it happened with Emmitt and it happened with Dorsett and this is just how this sometimes works.
Oh, and it'll be emotional for Romo, too.
As he said: "Season’s are fleeting. Games become more precious. Chances for success diminish. You’re potential successor has arrived. Injured two years in a row and now in the mid 30’s. The press is whispering, everyone has doubts. You’ve spent your career working to get here. Now we have to start all over.''
And maybe "start all over'' means you're doing so in Denver or Houston or Chicago.
2) You're Only Young Once
I guarantee you, Romo will morph all of this into a feeling of satisfaction if Dak keeps the job and does well ... because Romo will have been a part of that. It's a different role, but it's a role.
"I was that kid once,'' he said, reflecting on Dak's emergence and his own, a decade ago. "Stepping in having to prove yourself. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It really is an incredible time in your life.''
But he also said:
"I can remember when I was a kid just starting out and wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself. For every high school kid out there, or college player, there’s greatness in being the kind of teammate who truly wants to be a part of a team. Everyone wants to be the reason they’re winning and losing. Every single one of us wants to be that person. But there are special moments that come from a shared commitment to play your role, while doing it together. That’s what you remember. Not your stats or your prestige. But the relationships and the achievements that you created through a group. It’s hard to do but there’s great joy in that.''
Not enough Cowboys followers know the story, and because these guys play left guard instead of QB, not enough people will ever know the story. But last year, when rookie La'el Collins was given the job over Ronald Leary, the inferior player won. And yet, guess who big-brother'ed Collins toward what is assumed will be eventual greatness?
That's how a good football team works. Nobody gave a crap about a nationally-televised Leary presser, of course, but at its essence, it's the same process as this process.
1) The Final Word
Of course, you know the rest of the story with Leary. A year after handing his job to Collins, the kid got hurt. Leary is now back starting at left guard. And this edition of the Cowboys O-line is the best it's ever been.
And where I'm going with this is: Tony Romo isn't done.
If you believe Dallas is "a team of destiny,'' you should also be aware of the 8-1 math: A Super Bowl-bound Cowboys team, if that's what this is, has played nine games but has 10 games remaining. The season isn't even half-over yet. And it's football. Injuries happen. Slumps happen. Shit happens.
I've noted that this wasn't a "retirement speech forever but rather a concession speech for now.'' Watch and see.
"You can be both (a competitor and a good teammate),'' Romo said. "I’ve figured that out in this process. That’s what separates sports from everything else. It’s why we love it, it’s why we trust it. It’s why I still want to play and compete. ... I feel like we all have two battles, or two enemies, going on. One is with the man across from you, the second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn’t matter. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
Tony Romo's speech established that "the man inside'' has been dealt with. ... but I would argue that it's freed him to go attack "the one across from you.'' And that he will do just that.null