Is there a rift between Romo, Kyle Orton?

IRVING, Texas -- Maybe it’s nothing or maybe it’s everything.

The near silence from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo regarding the absence of backup quarterback Kyle Orton from the offseason workouts speaks on so many levels.

Asked Tuesday if he talked to Orton, Romo said no.

Surprised Orton is not at the offseason workouts? “Am I surprised that Orton’s not here?" Romo said. "I’m not sure what you mean.”

When asked if he wanted to see Orton put forth the same commitment to the team as he and other players, Romo said: “Yeah, um, I don’t have any comment on that.”

Is there a rift between Romo and Orton?

It’s surprising to see Romo not talk extensively about Orton’s absence. One would think Romo would offer an opinion regarding somebody who works in the same quarterback room.

Back in June 2012, Romo had positive things to say regarding cornerback Mike Jenkins, who missed the offseason program because he was irked at the team about not getting a new contract as he recovered from shoulder surgery.

"There's always a business side to the game," Romo said then. "Personally, you just want to play football. I think Mike understands there's a time for business and there's a time to play. I think that stuff he's going through is for everybody. I think for him, he's got to do what he thinks is right. But at the same toime, he understands that he's part of the team.

"I expect Mike to have a great season. He's been a great player for us and I'm excited about having him back."

Why couldn’t Romo provide the same support for Orton?

Orton is thinking of retiring and team officials, who expect him to report to the mandatory veteran minicamp, haven’t been stressed about his absence.

Romo might be upset that Orton isn’t here and is worried he can’t trust his commitment going forward.

It was something coach Jason Garrett addressed in general terms.

“I don’t want to get into the specifics of that,” Garrett said. “I think all situations are different. Certainly, we’ll talk to our players and get a feel for what their mindset is.”

Financial reasons indicate the Cowboys have the leverage because they could command bonus money back from Orton, as much as $3 million. The team could also fine Orton for missing the mandatory minicamp, and the backup quarterback stands to lose $3.25 million in base salary if he retires in 2014.

“It’s always good for quarterbacks, really for any player, to be here and get the reps and go through meetings, be out on the practice field and compete against your teammates,” Garrett said. “That’s a good thing. When guys aren’t here, those are missed opportunities. Kyle’s a smart football player. He’s played for a long time in this league. I think he understands our system of football. He’s more able to handle not being here than maybe some are. Having said that, we want all our football players here practicing with their teammates and trying to get better.”

Orton’s absence might be deeper than money and could revolve around a working relationship with Romo. The No. 2 quarterbacks for Romo during his time as starter have been Drew Bledsoe, Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Orton.

Romo had good relationships with these quarterbacks and supported them when they replaced him for injury.

Each of the backup quarterbacks had been starters elsewhere and were on the backside of their careers. Orton, who could probably start for several teams, is entering the last phase of his career.

Romo is a durable player whose back injury now raises questions about his long-term status, despite what he says.

“You look at a couple of factors,” Romo said. “One, you see the number of people that have already done it in a lot of different sports. You look at it and see your level of improvement through the rehab and on top of it, you just understand that it’s like anything. You concentrate in your workouts and the time that you have to go prove yourself, you can really change just about anything. The human body is an amazing thing. Gives you a great opportunity to get better. I think I’ll be able to play for quite a bit longer.”

Whatever the issues are, if there are any, must be settled before Orton returns. If he does.