So … why is he still here?
The best answer from here inside The Star in Frisco: The Cowboys front office is playing a game of “Good Cop/Bad Cop.’’
The plan was crystal clear back on Wednesday, March 8, the day before the official opening of NFL free agency: During the lunch hour that day, owner Jerry Jones and Romo engaged in a conversation based on their mutual “Do-Right Rule’’: Romo would be designated as a post-June 1 cut.
How much that obligated “Good Cop’’ Jerry to stick to his word is a matter of debate … but clearly, COO Stephen Jones (and maybe other Jones lieutenants) is playing “Bad Cop’’ here, insisting that the Jerry-Romo handshake agreement isn’t as beneficial to the franchise as is sitting on Romo and hoping he becomes as asset worth flipping for something.
So we have a poker game in which Jerry lined up chairs at the table … but is presently the only one occupying a chair.
Will the Texans and the Broncos pull up a seat? They know that the Cowboys have no intention of keeping a backup QB that counts $24.7 million against the salary cap — or a backup QB who is in position to cause wreckage inside a locker room in which Dak Prescott is now The Man.
You want to give up Romo for nothing via cutting him? Ideally, you do not.
You want to cling to him and risk a divide in that locker room? Ideally, you want that even less.
The affection that the Jones family and the Romo family have for one another is highly valued by all involved. So in addition to creating a clean break that allows the Dak-led locker room to move on, Jerry would like to create for Romo an opportunity to play in a favorable new location.
Wait too long and those opportunities dry up. And maybe Romo retires -- Which would be fine by Jerry, by the way. And an aside: ESPN and Sports Illustrated keep "breaking the story'' of Romo TV opportunities. We've reported their existence since mid-November. They are real on the part of the networks and they are a consideration in the Romo household.
Pull the trigger too early and maybe you miss on Houston or Denver finally giving in and conceding that, say, a first-round flip of picks (the equivalent of a third-rounder) is a fair price for an aging star QB who could make a major difference in their Super Bowl hopes.
Sources in both Houston and Denver continue to insist they won’t trade for Romo, but we know that when they assumed Dallas would stick with “Do-Right,’’ they coveted him as a free agent. … especially if they could forge a new contract that didn’t guarantee him the $14 mil salary he’s presently due.
So who budges first?
*Houston, now an almost perennial AFC playoff team that lists Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as its QBs?
*Denver, a team a with Super Bowl resume that lists Trevor Siemian and Payton Lynch as its QBs?
*Romo? He has the power to circle back to Jerry and press him on the “Do-Right’’ agreement. He has reasons to consider giving up the fight for the right future fit and instead settling into retirement. He has the audience to go public with a scorched-earth insistence that he be allowed to battle Prescott for the No . 1 job with “his’’ Cowboys (which would create a mess both in the public eye and inside the locker room).
Romo - once he joins Jerry back at the poker table - has another card to play: He can tell swap-minded Dallas to make sure the Texans and Broncos and whomever else that he has no intention of negotiating down his contract to help facilitate a trade. Doing so would help prevent a trade, further forcing Dallas’ hand toward his release.
Why would Romo do anything but “play nice’’ here? In this scenario, it’d be seen by some as a justified response to the Joneses having not “played nice.’’ I can argue that Romo's latest social media post is meant as just such a response, a subtle bit of passive-aggressive shade thrown at the Cowboys, as Tony and his 7-year-old son Hawkins talk about a "deal that's good for you but bad for me'' complete with a use of the phrase "pinkie-promise'' that echoes as a synonym of "Do-Right.''
Hawkins: “OK, deal? Pinky promise? Pinky promise!”
Tony: “What am I pinky-promising?”
Hawkins: “That deal! Ok? You’re gonna do it, ok? Pinky promise!”
Tony: “Is it good?”
Hawkins: “Uhuh. It’s good. It’s a good deal for me. It’s better for me, OK, Dad? It’s not for you, it’s for me.”
Tony: “Why would I take the deal then, if it’s better for you?”
For the record, I've discussed in great detail with the Romo camp the intent of the video. Why does it sound so scripted? Why does a 7-year-old worry about negotiating bedtime during the daytime? What father has so much prescience to anticipate his son is about to deliver a cute monologue -- complete with the kid's hair being gelled up just so -- that Dad thinks to turn the camera on first?
I'm told that Romo recorded this video months ago, and that it is simply a favorite of his, and that this was a big celebratory weekend in the Romo home because it was Hawkins' little brother Rivers' birthday ... and it was all fun, cute and innocent.
But surely Tony knew what impact the video would have, what the response would be. And he released it anyway.
Romo, 14 years under the NFL/Cowboys spotlght, is either ignorant to the way his actions are perceived, or he's in tune with them.
So ... is Tony Romo ignorant or in-tune?
There are many observers who think Romo has no right to negotiate in any way -- strong-arm or subtle -- because he’s “been paid all that money’’ and “is under contract, so he has to do as his employer says.’’ But Romo’s side can argue back that the Wednesday noontime agreement is just as “binding’’ as any contract, and that, paraphrasing “North Dallas Forty,’’ the Joneses need to decide … “Is this is a business or is this a game?’’
And hey, if you wanna see Tony Romo really throw shade, watch him march to a microphone on April 17, the start of full offseason workouts (and an "artificial deadline,'' just as today's start of NFL Owners Meetings in Arizona is), and announce, "I'm here to compete for MY job.''
Won't that be fun?
*Good Cop Jerry? He and Stephen and Romo made this bed together, creating a familial bond that complicates the usual simple act of cutting a player.
*Bad Cop Stephen? If you are a Cowboys observer who has long lusted for leadership that values a football/financial bottom line over Jerry’s avuncular sentiment, you now have your man.
Before this ever gets to the Texans or the Broncos and FOX or CBS, its in the laps of the three principals: Good Cop Jerry, Bad Cop Stephen and their “prisoner’’ Tony Romo … with all three, in a "Mexican Standoff'' sense, holding each other hostage with metaphoric pistols, Do-Right Rules and Pinkie-Promises.