Cowboys believe Tony Romo has plenty left

INDIANAPOLIS -- Technically Tony Romo is signed through 2016, but that is more from a salary-cap standpoint to help keep his salary cap numbers in check. In reality, Romo is signed through 2013, when the last three years of the restructured contract he signed last summer are voided.

But the Cowboys do not view Romo, who turns 32 in April, as an aging quarterback because he did not play his first three years. The franchise’s best quarterbacks, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, retired when they were 37 and 34, respectively.

“I think you always think about your play clock, but more than anything else he did start later in his career than a lot of guys at his position,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think he’s a young 31 year old. I think he’s got a lot of football left in him.”

Romo has started 77 games in his career and is coming off what Garrett called the quarterback’s best season, in which he threw 31 touchdown passes and had just 10 interceptions.

In three of the last four seasons, Romo has battled through finger, collarbone, rib and hand injuries that cost him 13 games. He did not miss a game in 2011 despite a fractured rib/punctured lung and an injured hand in the 15th game of the season.

Some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks will be in their early or mid-30s when the 2012 season begins, including New England’s Tom Brady (35), New Orleans’ Drew Brees (33) and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick (32). Peyton Manning will be 36 if he can return from a neck injury with Indianapolis or another team in 2012.

“Quarterback is so different,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Guys play quarterback [a long time], obviously some don’t. Troy’s career was shorter than we would’ve liked and he would’ve liked. But quarterbacks play until their 40s. You don’t have issues signing a 30-year-old. At any other position there’s issues there. With a quarterback you don’t have issues with a third contract or even a fourth contract if they can play.”

It does not sound as if the Cowboys will begin the earnest search for Romo’s successor in this draft. They have a plethora of needs to fill elsewhere and there are strong indications the Cowboys will be in play for a veteran backup.

Garrett has used veterans Brad Johnson and Jon Kitna as Romo’s backups since 2007.

“It’s really an important position,” Garrett said. “You need to allocate resources to the position.

"Being a veteran guy with experience is certainly a plus. Stephen McGee has gotten valuable experience at the end of the last two seasons. He has played in games. He has won games for us. He has been involved in two minute drives at the end of games and had success with those … He has played more football the last couple of years. That is helping him.”