When a quarterback of Tony Romo’s caliber becomes available, it should pique the interest of any team that lacks a top-tier option. In Romo’s case, that team just now happens to be one calling the games instead of playing them. According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Todd Archer on Tuesday morning, Romo plans to retire from football to enter the world of broadcasting. Per other reports, he will replace Phil Simms as the color man in CBS’s no. 1 announcing team.
Given the constant speculation that’s surrounded where Romo would end up, either via trade or free-agent signing following his release from the Cowboys, this news comes as a bombshell. Still, shocking doesn’t feel like the right word to describe it. Most of the logic behind Romo’s desire to play in 2017 was easy to follow: It was tough to imagine that a player of Romo’s ilk would let what transpired in 2016 stand as his lasting memory in the league. Many of Romo’s career numbers stack up with those of the best passers of the past 50 years. Only four quarterbacks since the merger have a better completion percentage. The same goes for yards-per-attempt average. Only Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady have better passer ratings.
When Romo was at his best, though, efficiency isn’t what mattered most. He was captivating, the type of not-so-subtly mobile, fearless playmaker who could swing a drive with a play that took two detours en route to producing a 20-yard gain. The last meaningful image of Romo in the NFL shouldn’t have been him clutching his back during an August exhibition in Seattle, with Dak Prescott warming up as he prepared to take control of Romo’s huddle and franchise. It should’ve been Romo spinning away from sacks and heaving gorgeous touchdown tosses to put a contender over the top. Based on Tuesday’s news, it’s clear that the need for that finishing stroke mattered more to some of us than it did to Romo. And with a dazzling body of work behind him — and a young family and exciting future ahead — it’s difficult to blame him for making this move.
Upon hearing the news of Romo’s decision, my first thought was of the video that Romo posted to Instagram after joining the site a month ago. Aside from the clip of this little girl expressing her love for a water heater, it’s the most adorable sequence to recently hit the internet. The short video finds Romo in the backyard with his two sons, ages 2 and 4, teaching them how to play football. There’s no Giants pass rush trying to hunt Romo down, and no 300-pound lineman seeking to crunch his collarbone into dust. When the wide receiver starts crying, it’s much cuter than what the quarterback is probably used to. Romo will turn 37 later this month. His wife is pregnant with the couple’s third child. And for him, walking away from football with his health is not some far-off hypothetical. The last time he finished an NFL season, in 2014, he did so with two broken bones in his back. Romo — who by all accounts is as insightful and camera-ready as players come — was always going to have a future behind a microphone when he wanted it.
If this really is the end of Romo’s playing days, the fallout will be felt most in two places. The first is Houston, where the Texans had emerged as the front-runner to land his services. Trading Brock Osweiler to the Browns appeared to swing open the door to a possible marriage between the two sides. Now, Houston is left with Tom Savage and a massive blinking neon question mark at quarterback.
The second is Dallas, where the parsing of Romo’s legacy with the franchise can finally begin — sort of. Romo will likely never get his proper due. He carried undermanned offenses to prolific seasons during his early years with the team, only to have that work overshadowed by a series of playoff failings. Romo’s final chapter — one that began in 2014 as Dallas completed the construction of its planet-wrecking offensive line and put the finishing touches on the ideal Romo offense — never came to pass. The past few seasons should have brought a flourish that ultimately showcased Romo’s career in a different light. Instead, like so much of his time in Dallas, they’re mostly a reminder of what could have been.
Of course, retirement has sometimes been a fluid concept with star quarterbacks. And NFL Network’s Jane Slater already has reported that if Dallas is ever in a pinch, Romo could potentially be coaxed back. With the Cowboys’ 2017 ceiling — and with them being, well, the Cowboys — that speculation will drag on for longer than it should.
For now, the Romo saga is over, and it didn’t culminate in the frenzied scramble that everyone envisioned a month ago. As it stands, Romo’s career has come to a close, and it’s worth celebrating. I have a feeling, though, this story line isn’t going away quite yet.