Has Tony Romo reached his peak?
Romo stuck under Garrett
Tony Romo has reached his peak under Jason Garrett.
Has he fulfilled his potential? We'll find out if Jerry Jones gets Sean Payton to replace Garrett next season.
That's the primary reason Jerry must make Payton's Valley Ranch return a reality. The Cowboys need to do everything possible to maximize what remains of their franchise quarterback's prime. That means giving Romo the opportunity to start for an elite playcaller for the first time in his career.
Look at what Payton did for Drew Brees' career. Brees arrived in New Orleans a good quarterback coming off a major shoulder injury. He's made a heck of a case for a spot in the Hall of Fame during his time with the Saints.
Brees never threw for more than 3,576 yards in a season during his four seasons as the San Diego Chargers' starting quarterback. His low in six seasons under Payton was 4,388, and he surpassed 5,000 yards twice, breaking Dan Marino's longstanding NFL record with 5,476 yards last season.
Brees never threw for more than 27 touchdowns during his San Diego tenure. He threw for 26 in 2006, his first season playing for Payton, and has at least 28 in each season since, highlighted by a league-leading 46 last season.
Sure, Brees was only 27 when he started working with Payton. But it'd be foolish to doubt that Romo couldn't put up his best numbers in his mid-30s with a major upgrade in the play-calling department.
The Cowboys' red-zone inefficiency has been Garrett's biggest flaw as a playcaller. Payton has been one of the best at finishing drives.
The Cowboys have been mediocre in the red zone for most of Garrett's tenure and just plain bad the last two seasons, ranking 20th in red-zone efficiency last season and 26th now. Dallas converts only 44.4 percent of its opportunities inside the 20 into touchdowns despite having three big targets in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin.
The Saints, on the other hand, ranked among the NFL's top six teams in red-zone efficiency in four of the last five seasons. (New Orleans ranks No. 1 this season, which could be considered evidence that Payton is just a small part of the Saints' scoring success. To the contrary, it should be considered proof that Brees and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael learned well from the mastermind.)
Payton played a major role in developing Romo, his fellow Eastern Illinois alum, from an undrafted free agent into a franchise quarterback. The Cowboys need Payton to come back to find out just how good Romo can really be.
The time is now for Romo
According to Esiason, when a player enters the NFL, athletically he is at his best and mentally he is at his worst. Over the years those numbers creep toward each other with the athleticism going down and the mental capacity increasing.
When those two meet, then you have an athlete who's at his prime.
This isn't a foolproof theory, and there exceptions to every rule. But it's one that is generally on target.
Romo is 32. He has started 88 games. He has seen everything a defense can do to a quarterback since becoming the starter in 2006 and can now diagnose it within a second. We have seen Romo run around and make plays that more athletic quarterbacks can't.
There is always room for incremental growth, from decision making to arm strength to whatever topic you want to bring up.
Calling this Romo's peak does not mean he's ready to slide quickly into the back nine of his quarterbacking days.
He didn't play a snap during his first three seasons. He did not take a beating -- mentally or physically -- that younger quarterbacks tend to take. The Cowboys do not view him as the traditional 32-year-old quarterback. They think he has plenty of tread left on his tires and will be willing to sign him to a contract extension whenever the quarterback wants to start those talks again.
Age will eventually be a factor, but we are seeing quarterbacks age gracefully -- Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, to name a few. A quarterback can play into his late 30s and even his 40s (Brett Favre comes to mind) and play at a top level.
But to think Romo has another huge jump to make in terms of his development is folly.
The Cowboys can extend these peak years by getting better players around him. And not running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. They need to get better linemen up front to make sure the Cowboys are not so reliant on him.
By having a running game of even mediocre standards, Romo would be better. (The Cowboys' run game is not even mediocre. It's terrible.) By having better pass protection, Romo would not take the shots he has or have to run around as much.
Adding to the skill positions will help, but the priority has to be the guys in front of the quarterback.
Romo is in his peak years. It's up to the organization not to waste any more of them.
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