Reps vs. rust? No, Romo needed relief

IRVING, Texas – The criticism of how the Dallas Cowboys handled Tony Romo’s summer schedule is as off-target as any throw he made during his poor performance in the season opener.

It obviously wasn’t the ideal way to get Romo ready for the regular season. But it was the best way for the Cowboys to handle a bad situation with Romo coming off his second back surgery in the span of less than a year.

This isn’t a debate of reps vs. rust. Romo needed relief.

“I don’t know if you can change that,” Romo said Wednesday, when he admitted that rust was a factor in his three-pick performance in the loss to the San Francisco 49ers. “When you’re coming off of any type of injury or any type of surgery, I think you've got to manage that. You have to make sure you’re going to be able to be healthy and help your football team, and we did a great job with that.”

The Cowboys had to exercise extreme caution with Romo during training camp to make sure he was as healthy as possible for the start of the season. If the Cowboys pushed him to practice every day during training camp, there’s a pretty good chance he wouldn’t be able to stand up straight now, much less stand in the pocket and do his job.

The Cowboys’ decision-makers didn’t do Romo any PR favors by consistently insisting he was 100 percent while he was practicing about 60 percent of the time. Of course, everybody should know by now to take any injury information disseminated publicly by the team with a shaker of salt. Remember head coach Jason Garrett claiming that Romo was day-to-day until the second the surgeon sliced open the quarterback’s back?

Romo’s back will require constant maintenance for the rest of the season, the rest of his career and the rest of his life.

As rusty as he was in this season opener, it would be silly to expect him to practice every day during next year’s training camp. That just isn’t realistic for a quarterback in his mid-30s who has undergone two back surgeries. And it certainly wouldn't come as any surprise if Romo needs to miss several practices throughout the course of the season.

That’s a problem. It’s why finding Romo’s eventual replacement has to rank somewhere near the top of the Cowboys’ offseason priority list.

Romo’s back could give out at any time. The Cowboys tried to buy time by handling him with care this summer. It wasn’t the best way to get a quarterback ready for the regular season, but in this situation, it was the smartest.