Final Exam: Tony Romo will bounce back

IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys signed Tony Romo to a six-year contract extension on March 29, 2013, the talk was that Romo was a young soon-to-be 33-year-old quarterback.

He did not take a snap in his first three seasons, mitigating the damage most quarterbacks get when they play right away. Troy Aikman was sacked 90 times in his first three seasons and that was just 38 games.

Romo enters 2014 coming off his second back surgery in eight months thanks to a herniated disk that flared up late last season. He missed the entire 2013 offseason because of the removal of a cyst and needed to “uniquely run mountains,” as Jerry Jones put it, in California before training camp started to get into better condition.

Romo did not miss a day of camp. He finished with 31 touchdown passes and had just 10 interceptions. The plus-21 ratio matched his career high. He threw for 3,828 yards in 15 games before missing the last game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Aikman was 26 when he had a herniated disk repaired and had one of his better seasons, completing a career-high 69.1 percent of his passes in 1993 as the Cowboys won their second straight Super Bowl.

Romo turns 34 in April. He might not have taken the beating Aikman took early in his career but he has been sacked 107 times in his past 47 games. Those take a toll. So do the hits a quarterback takes that aren’t sacks.

You can never predict how a body will react.

A Romo hallmark is his ability to create things out of nothing. There were some magical moments in 2013, especially in that Washington Redskins game that turned out to be his last, but the scrambling and buying time that Romo had showed in previous years was not as prevalent. Was Romo protecting himself more? Perhaps. Was he willing to take the sack instead of risking the interception? Sure. Aaron Rodgers does much the same in Green Bay.

One of the reasons why the Cowboys and Romo wanted to have the surgery right away -- and I still can’t believe how nonchalantly Jason Garrett announced it two days before the Eagles game considering how far the coach goes in not saying a word about injuries -- was to make sure he will be ready for the offseason program.

Romo does not need a productive offseason in order to understand the offense better or to get a better read on opposing defenses.

He needs his best offseason in order to get his body right and in the best shape he’s been. The Cowboys have invested heavily in Romo and they need to make sure they give him every opportunity to get stronger and healthier, too.

Despite what many believe, working hard has never been a problem for Romo. This offseason will be no different.

So, yes, he can overcome this back surgery and continue to be an upper-level NFL starter at the age of 34.