No team ever had a quarterback controversy like the one this city will have in a week or two when Tony Romo announces he’s fully healed from his second spinal procedure in two years.
He will be ready to be QB1, as he has been for a decade. The team’s owner, the omnipresent Jerry Jones, has reiterated that “Tony is our No. 1 quarterback.”
But Jerry has been known to change his mind, especially when the thought process involves quarterbacks. How many back-and-forths have we heard on Johnny Manziel?
Certainly Dak Prescott, the lightly-regarded fourth-round pick from Mississippi State, is giving Jones reason to second-guess himself for his vote of confidence in Romo.
Rich Gannon, former Super Bowl quarterback who now appears on Monday QB, is among those who feel that Prescott is playing too well to be benched: “We may not see Romo again this season.”
Perhaps he’s biased in favor of mobile quarterbacks like himself. But perhaps the Cowboys need a quarterback who’s fast enough to escape to the sidelines. Which Prescott does very well. He’s been sacked just seven times in five games, with Dallas winning four of them.
Other quarterback experts besides Gannon are gushing about Prescott, who would have been selected earlier if not for a drunk-driving arrest as the draft approached. For once, the Cowboys’ leniency on character has worked in their favor.
Phil Simms on CBS observed that Prescott’s “poise is extraordinary. . . . He doesn’t panic. He goes to the right guy, right on target. . . . If they keep rolling like this, they’re not going to make a change.”
Prescott could make himself irreplaceable if he brings the Cowboys a victory as underdogs Sunday at Green Bay. This will be the rookie quarterback’s first chance to beat a good team on the road.
Prescott is completing 69 percent and ranks eighth in the league passer ratings. He’s just eight throws away from tying Tom Brady’s record of 163 passes without picks to begin an NFL career.
And speaking of Brady, he’s the one most often cited as precedent for replacing a well-established starting quarterback who’s returned from injury.
Drew Bledsoe, unlike Romo (who would replace him in Dallas), had played in a Super Bowl. But when Brady stepped in for an injured Bledsoe in 2001 and guided the New England Patriots to a playoff berth, Bill Belichick was not about to turn back the clock. It was on to Brady. Who proceeded to win his first Super Bowl. Now he can put a championship ring on each finger of his right hand.
In a highly unscientific poll of Cowboys fans, I find overwhelming sentiment for not interrupting Prescott’s stunningly rapid development to turn again to a veteran who’s suffered broken bones in three of the past five games he’s played.
There’s much agitation for trading Romo now, before he gets hurt again. By releasing or trading him, the Cowboys would free up more than $5 million in salary-cap bucks that could be spent next year for upgrades on the defense. The number hits $20 million in 2018, when Romo will be 38.
But Jones may be right in thinking that this season, if only this one, Romo gives the team its best shot at playoff success. Never mind that his postseason record is 2-4. Romo does one thing very well that Prescott doesn’t yet do so well: complete the 50-yard bomb.
Prescott’s longest completion is 47 yards, but he’s hampered by the absence of the team’s best deep receiver, the mercurial – in more ways than one — Dez Bryant.
After he skipped two days of practice and a scheduled MRI for a knee injury, Bryant’s popularity plunged to a new low. As he put it: “Clearly, I’m America’s most hated.”
Bryant is recovering from a hairline fracture. His projected return, coincidentally, is the same as Romo’s: following a bye week, October 30 against Philadelphia, which looms as the main threat to the Cowboys in the NFC East.
It’s not out of the question that Romo could have a run of health behind an offensive line that demolished the proud defensive front of the Cincinnati Bengals in a 28-14 romp last Sunday.
The Cowboys are justified in thinking they can do more than win a division. They lead the league in rushing, with rookie first-rounder Zeke Elliott. And their defense has steadily improved, from horrible to respectable.
Mo Claiborne, the long-disappointing sixth-overall pick from 2012, can be called a shutdown corner after limiting Cincy’s splendid A.J. Green to four catches for 50 yards.
And the Cowboys now have a pass rush, with DeMarcus Lawrence returning after missing the first four games with a drug suspension.
Jones believes – and so do many others – that Romo would make the team even better. Romo’s knowledge of Jason Garrett’s playbook far exceeds Prescott’s, and his resume is far more complete.
If five or ten games could measure the worth of an NFL career, Colin Kaepernick would be headed for the Hall of Fame. I really don’t see the risk in letting Romo have one more chance. Prescott will be ready.