Another reason why Cowboys have to sign Tony Romo

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys’ top priority this offseason is signing Tony Romo to a contract extension. The sooner, the better.

Without it they cannot be active in the upcoming free-agent market, and in 2014 they will face an $8.1 million charge in dead money after Romo’s contract voids following this season.

Putting a franchise tag on Romo in 2014 would also be dicey, if not impossible.

If the Cowboys want to use the franchise tag on Romo in 2014 – which could be somewhere around $14-15 million – they would also have to account for $8.1 million in prorated money coming forward. If they chose to go that route, then Romo would, in effect, count $22-23 million against the cap in 2014.

With the salary cap expected to be in the $122 million range in 2014, the Cowboys can’t have Romo account for nearly 18-19 percent of the cap by himself.

They could choose to let Romo play out the deal this year and sign him as a free agent in 2014 without the benefit of the franchise tag, but he would be able to go wherever he wanted and it would be a huge risk by the team.

When the Cowboys reworked Romo’s contract two years ago, they added three voidable years (2014-16) to the deal to help keep the cap figures in 2011-12 lower. It was a smart accounting move then, but one that takes away some of the team’s leverage now.

When (or if) Romo signs an extension this offseason, the Cowboys will be able to eat up the outstanding prorated money in the new deal.