Like it or not, Cowboys must extend Romo

Here at the NFC East blog, we appreciate the extent to which ESPNDallas.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor has been helping us out with provocative Dallas Cowboys columns during a slow time. The ability to link to and discuss Jacques' work has helped carry us through a few days recently, and today is no different. Today Jacques writes that, rather than extend Tony Romo's contract this offseason to create salary-cap relief and ensure that they're not left without a quarterback a year from now when Romo's deal expires, the Cowboys should let Romo play out the final season of his deal.

The Cowboys should let Romo play out his deal just as the Baltimore Ravens did with quarterback Joe Flacco. Make Romo play his best football for himself -- and the team -- next season. And if Romo still hasn't earned a contract extension with his performance, Jones should place the franchise tag on him in 2014. And 2015 too, if necessary.

The Cowboys could absorb Romo's salary this season, but it would mean saying goodbye to players such as nose tackle Jay Ratliff, Doug Free, Marcus Spears, Dan Connor and Anthony Spencer. Then the Cowboys would have to restructure the contracts of Brandon Carr, DeMarcus Ware and maybe, Miles Austin. Bottom line: It could get done without too much pain.

Now, I am a great fan of Jacques personally and of his work, but I could not disagree with him more on this particular point. While the premise isn't a bad one -- the idea that the Cowboys would like to see more from Romo than they've seen to this point in terms of his ability to deliver big wins -- waiting a year is completely impractical.

First of all, I fail to see how losing Ratliff, Spears, Connor and Spencer and then working to restructure Carr, Ware and Austin isn't "too much pain." That sounds like a lot of losses on defense and a lot of work on deals (Carr's in particular) that may not be as restructure-friendly as the cap-strapped Cowboys would like them to be.

Second of all, there is the persistent problem of the lack of strong alternatives to Romo should they lose him in a year. Say Romo plays great, as he did in 2011 and for most of 2012 (the final game notwithstanding), and the Cowboys continue to struggle to put a representative offensive line in front of him. Maybe he doesn't want to come back. Maybe he wants to go to a team that can protect him better, where his reputation as a big-game flop isn't as integral a part of the way the team's fans feel about him. Maybe he'll want out of the Cowboys circus completely. And if that's the case, woe to the Cowboys trying to find a solution on next year's market without a decent candidate already in the fold. Look around the league at teams like the Chiefs, Browns, Jaguars, Jets and the Eagles for goodness' sake. You don't want to be the team looking for a quarterback on a market that might not have any. That's not a fun place for a franchise to be.

The Flacco comparison fails because it's not as though Flacco outperformed his prior résumé this season. He muddled through an up-and-down regular season and played well in the playoffs, as he always does. The Ravens lost last year's AFC Championship Game to the Patriots because of a dropped pass and a missed field goal that weren't his fault. This year, they won that game and the next one. Yes, the Super Bowl MVP award will help Flacco make more money on this next deal, but it's not as though the Ravens saw anything from their quarterback this year they didn't already know or believe he could do. Flacco didn't have a prove-it year. He just had a better ending than he's ever had before. If that's what the Cowboys need to see from Romo, then as we have discussed at length, they need to get him a lot more help.

But in the end, the biggest reason to extend Romo is the fact that it makes too much financial sense. The Cowboys have major salary-cap problems. One of the easiest ways for them to get relief is to give Romo an extension that his performance relative to his peers says he deserves anyway and which would save them cap space they'll need over the coming months. Standing on principle and saying Romo has to win a big game before he can get his money simply isn't the best thing for the franchise right now. Warts and all, Romo as the quarterback now and for the foreseeable future is.