FRISCO, Texas -- The word "retirement" never came out of Tony Romo’s mouth in his introductory conference call with CBS on Tuesday.
He was asked on multiple occasions if he was retiring from football with his move to the broadcast booth. He used his best improvisational skills, as if he was spinning back and to the left to get away from J.J. Watt in 2014 to throw a touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.
“Do I envision coming back and playing football? Absolutely not,” Romo said. “Will I get some calls? Sure I will. That's just the reality.”
The player Romo was most compared to over the years was Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. How many times did he say he was done playing only to return? Romo knows enough not to get locked in on anything, citing a Nick Saban line when the latter was the coach of the Miami Dolphins.
“I don’t envision coming [back], but I’ve also seen enough things, from ‘I’m not going to Alabama’ to ‘I’m not returning to football,’” Romo said, but also adding. “You never say never.”
Romo said he feels better now than he did in 2014, his best season, when he threw 34 touchdown passes and was intercepted just nine times. Since that season, he played in parts of just five games, starting and finishing just two of them. A twice-broken collarbone ruined his 2015 season. A compression fracture in his back forced him to miss the first nine games of last season. By the time he was healthy, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett opted to stick with Dak Prescott as the starter.
Romo played in just one series in 2016, throwing a touchdown pass in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
If the Cowboys had made the decision to release Romo on March 9, which was expected at the time, perhaps he would not have made the move to CBS. However, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said he had talks with Romo about the broadcasting gig when the season ended.
If the Cowboys had cut Romo on March 9, the first day of the league year, there would have been interest from several teams. The Houston Texans were at the top of Romo’s list, but there were more suitors. Romo studied several teams, their coaches, their personnel, their salary-cap situations, their schedules.
The longer the Cowboys held on to Romo, the longer he had to contemplate his future. And the more he talked with CBS, the more he became intrigued.
"It really had nothing to do with the Texans,” Romo said. “It had everything to do with CBS. I didn't come to this conclusion lightly."
But the Cowboys’ subsequent decision to release Romo opens up the possibility of a return to any team. If Romo had made the CBS decision alone, the Cowboys could have put him on the did-not-report list and held on to his rights. If Romo had retired, the Cowboys would have held his rights, too.
Now we are assured that if a quarterback goes down in training camp or at some point during the season, Romo’s name will come up. Dallas owner/GM Jerry Jones ultimately followed the do-right rule he came up with at the scouting combine by releasing Romo. Perhaps Romo’s part of the do-right rule is that the Cowboys are the only team with which he would return to the field.
“It was meaningful to me to be a Dallas Cowboy,” Romo said. “It meant something.”
Romo admitted the competitive fire will never go away. That’s what makes great athletes great. But now he will use that fire to help him focus on becoming just as good at his new job.
There will be lots of work over the summer. His offseason program will go from running and lifting and tweaking his throwing motion, to studying other broadcasters and going through dry runs with Jim Nantz.
“I know what it takes for me to play, and I would literally have to be making that decision right now,” Romo said. “And I'm not making that decision right now.”