INDIANAPOLIS -- The question was everywhere during the NFL scouting combine: What’s going to happen to Tony Romo?
Romo could be in his final few days with the Dallas Cowboys with the league year opening Thursday, but the Cowboys don't need to make a quick decision on the veteran quarterback. They are under the $167 million salary cap. While not in a position currently to make big additions, they can carry Romo’s $24.7 million cap figure as long as they want.
They hope they can work out a potential trade, but there are a few stumbling blocks. A potential trade partner would want to rework Romo’s contract, and Romo wants to pick his new destination.
Over a five-day span in Indianapolis -- in the early morning hours at a Starbucks, or in the wee hours of the night turning into morning at Prime 47, a downtown steakhouse that becomes the unofficial home of all things NFL -- thoughts ranged far and wide on Romo.
One offensive coordinator on a team looking for a quarterback hoped his team would go after Romo, though he didn’t expect it to happen.
“He’s the best guy out there,” the coordinator said. “That’s not a question.”
One general manager of a team already with a starting quarterback acknowledged Romo’s injury history does not help. Romo has played in parts of five games over the past two years because of collarbone and back injuries. He played seven snaps in 2016, throwing a touchdown pass to Terrance Williams on his one drive in the Cowboys’ regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“But if you’re talking one, two years, absolutely you look at it,” he said.
Two former Cowboys assistant coaches on teams that could be looking for quarterback help were asked about Romo going to their teams.
“Been there, done that,” said one of an NFC team.
“No, no, don’t think we’ll be doing that,” said one of an AFC team.
Romo and Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones have had one postseason meeting in which they discussed every scenario: release, trade, retirement and remaining with the Cowboys. The Cowboys have not allowed Romo’s agents a chance to seek a deal, although that could be a step to what appears to be an inevitable separation.
One prominent agent said getting the Cowboys, Romo and a new team to agree is not an easy task.
“The Cowboys hold the cards,” the agent said. “Do they want to win and get something ludicrous for him? But then it’s what does Tony want because he’s Tony Romo and you want to do right by him. I think it could take a matter of hours, not a weeklong process.”
“We’re open to anything,” said Elway, the Broncos general manager. “We’ll always look at it. This is the time of year that you look at everything. You try to discuss everything and every possibility; what might be available and what might not be available, talk about that and see how it affects us. We talk about all of those types of things. We’ll see what happens.”
The subpar play of the Texans’ Brock Osweiler, last year’s big free-agent pickup, makes Houston, with a top defense, a contender.
“In our organization, I think every single day we’re looking to do something to improve,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Those ideas sometimes change based on the landscape. So, to say, ‘Am I looking to add?’ or, ‘Are we looking to add a quarterback in free agency?’ my experience in this league is we don’t even know who’s out there in free agency yet because some of these guys sign back with their teams.”
What’s often lost in the talk of Romo’s future is what he wants to do. While he wants to play, he will not go to a team that cannot contend. If the Cowboys could work a trade with a team that Romo wouldn’t want to play, then he could simply retire. It is unofficial veto power.
If Romo is released, Jones is confident he would not go to an NFC East rival like the Washington Redskins, who could be looking for a quarterback if they trade or remove the franchise tag from Kirk Cousins.
“We can’t have agreements without it being within the boundaries of the NFL, but when you’ve got a situation like we got, we’ll do the do-right rule,” Jones said. “That’s it. That is it. Very important. We do the do-right rule. We have that kind of relationship.”