The Existential Romo - And How The Cowboys Can Best Say Goodbye

Tony Romo has been ill. And no, it's not because his team - reading to open the playoffs against the ... - isn't 'his team' anymore. 'Food poisoning,' he tells me. A bad 38-hour thing. But it's all good now.' Soon, he and Dallas will need to find another cure, to solve their future together. Inside, The Existential Romo - And How The Cowboys Can Best Say Goodbye.

 Despite all the misinformed whining about the Dallas Cowboys being in "Cap Hell'' due to massive contracts having been handed out to guys like Tony Romo, a spring-of-2017 divorce from the team's (former) star quarterback can be remarkably painless.

The team that engineers a trade for Romo, should that happen, is only responsible for $14 million in 2017, a bargain if the Dallas near-icon plays anywhere near where he was in his one-of-the-best-QB-years-ever 2014, and even if he plays anywhere near where he was just a couple of weeks ago, when he made a cameo appearance in the regular-season-ending loss at Philly and was surgeon-like in his precision.

Meanwhile, in saying goodbye, Dallas will incur dead money of $19.6 million ... while also gaining $5 million in cap room.

That's right: If the Cowboys split from Romo, they actually GAIN cap room. And that dead-money figure, depending on how the two parties separate, can be cut in half and spread out over two seasons, meaning dead money of less than $10 mil for 2017 and 2018 each -- a not-at-all-alarming number compared to most of the rest of the NFL.

So the bookkeeping is not the painless part.

The emotion, though, is a struggle.

And finding a swap partner is a struggle.

This entire process would be even cleaner if Romo engaged in a very clever cap-beating trick by  a) restructuring with Dallas and then b) retiring from Dallas. But I promise you, that is not his intention. Remember what he said in his gut-wrenching torch-passing speech, when he ceded the No. 1 job to heir Dak Prescott back in mid-November, uttering, "And all the while your desire burns to be the best you’ve ever been. You can be both, 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.''

Romo's plan for 2017 is to compete.

"I'm not going to answer any existential questions,'' you'll recall Romo saying after the game in Philly, gently insisting to the media that he was only going to talk "about the game and my performance.''

But later, after the presser, near the team bus talking with me and another acquaintance, Romo did allow himself a moment of "existentialism.'' He is acutely aware of the bigger picture here; the game in Philadelphia was not just about "the game''; in fact, it wasn't about the game at all, as it was meaningless. 

"My performance''? Yes. That.

I joked to Romo that he lost half the room when he used the word "existential,'' that is served as a sort of verbal sleight-of-hand to knock the hounds off the scent of the real story, which is only a little bit about Romo helping the Cowboys in this postseason (though to be sure, he's the best backup QB in the NFL Playoffs) and more about him reasserting himself as a "commodity.'' It was also suggested in this conversation that specifics about Romo's post-Dallas football life have not taken up much space in his brain.

Maybe that's "anti-existentialism.'' But the point is, while we talk about how "he needs to go someplace with a great O-line'' or "Denver has $38 mil in cap room to take him on,'' these are more our thoughts than his.

The Dallas Morning News reviewed Romo's work in that game as having proved nothing about his viability as an NFL quarterback, a doltish take given the fact that before he tossed a clever TD pass to Terrance Williams against the Eagles, a high percentage of the football world assumed Romo was a corpse.

"You kind of expect it when you walk out there," Romo said of his success in his first on-field action in over a year. "I know it sounds silly, but you expect to go out there and do something well. In that regard it felt normal."

But while HE expected it, and while the Cowboys did, that doesn't mean the Morning News or the Broncos or whomever did.

The media asked Romo if he'd "learned anything'' in the Eagles game.

Romo ping-ponged back: "Did I learn anything today? That's a good question. I don't know how to answer that. I think more than anything you just play football. You go out there and if you're good enough to play, you're good enough to play."

And ... he is.

So now what?

As I've detailed above, it's not about Dallas' finances. And it's not difficult for a new team to absorb $14 million, obviously. I do think eventually there will be:

1) Jerry Jones wishing to find a way to retain Romo. Tony is, after all, under contract. And the budget allows for him to stay. That doesn't make it cap-smart or football-smart (two star QBs can eventually fracture a locker room.) But Jerry Poppins lives a fantasy life, views Tony as if he's a heroic fighter pilot in a bomber jacket (think Tom Cruise in "Top Gun'') and won't easily give up the dream.

1B) Now, that dream can be made easier if Tony makes it easy. But do you imagine Romo accepting a pay cut AND a defined role as Dak Prescott's caddie? If you do ... you shouldn't.

2) Cut him. At a time beneficial to Dallas, but in a way that allows Tony to literally pick his future.

3) Trade him -- and work with him to "pick'' a destination. This is more of a challenge for a number of reasons, including what I get in exchange. But I know this (and here's where the DMNews errors): Whatever Romo's trade value was before the Philly game ... it's higher now.

I can imagine the right team, in the right town, believing it's a stud QB away from contention, sacrificing a high conditional pick. Dallas gets the pick in 2018, only after Romo has performed in his new city. If he plays 12-plus games, or his team makes the playoffs, or whatever, a higher pick is conveyed. If not ... not.

Fair.

4) Romo renegotiates his Dallas contract down ... and then retires. This isn't Tony's plan (see, he's been a little bit existential). But it deserves to be on the list. Wife Candice gets emotional about Tony's connection with the team, as any spouse would. Is there value in playing or value in staying? Escaping football at 37 with your health intact? Accepting invitations from the Cowboys to coach or front-office shot-call, or from the networks to be a TV foof?

But for now? He's on this team, even though it isn't "his team.'' He's not Dak's No. 1 sounding board; Mark Sanchez is, and before you get all conspiratorial about that, think about it: Who's been Dak's backup most of his career as an NFL starter.

Is Romo pouting? I prefer to say this situation is "bittersweet,'' and that "bittersweet'' sometimes shows in his actions. That's the truth.

"I know there's a million other questions we can talk about and all that,'' Romo said that day in Philly. "It's just for the football team, it doesn't help to talk about everything that we could discuss. So for me, I genuinely feel like I understand the questions and they're good ones to have answered and we'll get to all that later."

Later isn't this week. Not as long as the Cowboys are alive, hosting the Packers on Sunday and sitting two wins from a Super Bowl. Yes, a Romo Super Bowl with a clipboard, but it's something, and it's his job, and he's paid to be a professional no matter that he's a different sort of "professional'' than he'd dreamed.

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"Ultimately,'' Romo said, his head clear and his stomach clear, too, "you're (defined) by what you do on Sunday.''

Romo's Sundays are likely to be soon spent elsewhere. For now? He's defined by what he does in helping Dak Prescott's Cowboys be defined by what they do on Sunday.

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