Cowboys position series: Quarterbacks

The first in ESPNDallas.com’s 10-part position series:

Roster locks: Tony Romo, Kyle Orton

On the bubble: None

Long shots: Nick Stephens, Dalton Williams

What’s new?: Romo has much more money and power. He negotiated the richest contract in franchise history -- seven years, $119.5 million with $55 million guaranteed -- and the right to have a strong voice throughout the game-planning process.

Oh, Romo also missed all of organized team activities and minicamp after having a cyst removed from his back. The Cowboys insist there’s no reason to be concerned about their franchise quarterback being ready for training camp, but he missed a month’s worth of work with rookie center Travis Frederick (drafted to give Romo an extra half-second of time), tight end Gavin Escobar and receiver Terrance Williams.

Much was made about giving that kind of money to a 33-year-old quarterback with only one career playoff win, but the Cowboys didn’t have any better options. It’s a virtual certainty that Romo would have gotten a deal at least that large on the open market next offseason, and the Cowboys couldn’t risk losing Romo after pretty much neglecting to attempt to develop young quarterbacks during his tenure as the starter.

Jerry Jones didn’t do Romo any favors with the “Peyton Manning-type time” line, which some wrongly perceived as questioning the quarterback’s work ethic in previous years. The point the owner/general manager was attempting to make is that Romo will have as much say in the creation of weekly game plans as any quarterback in the league -- and as much input in that process as anyone at Valley Ranch.

Why wouldn’t the general manager grant that request from Romo? The Cowboys offense was at its best last season when Romo was running the no-huddle offense after ineffective game plans helped put the Cowboys in huge holes.

Camp competition: The Cowboys could sign a young quarterback who has a legitimate shot of sticking as the No. 3 guy. Maybe Stephens (Flower Mound, Texas) and Williams (Coppell, Texas) end up competing for a job on the practice squad.

2013 hope: The Cowboys need Romo to perform to the expectations of his paycheck.

That means making plays and protecting the football, much like he did in 2011, when Romo threw for 31 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions and had a career-best passer rating of 102.5. (It’d be swell if his turnovers didn’t come in critical situations like the giveaways that played such prominent roles in losses to the New York Jets and Detroit Lions that season.)

More than anything, the Cowboys need Romo to play up to his standard when the season is on the line, assuming they’ll be in position for games in December and, hopefully January, to matter. His 1-6 record in win-or-the-end games isn’t all Romo’s fault, but he hasn’t played to his typical level in any of those losses and was especially bad in last season’s de facto NFC East title game, throwing three picks in a loss to the Washington Redskins.

If Romo stays healthy, the Cowboys should have postseason hope. They need him to rewrite the Romo narrative in the games when the season is at stake.

Future forecast: Romo’s contract means the Cowboys are committed to him as the starter for three more seasons at the minimum, probably at least four. He’ll be 37 then, so, at some point, searching for Romo’s successor should become a priority. They’re riding with Romo for the foreseeable future.