Tony Romo has been there, done that and has the postcards to prove it. An unheralded quarterback forced to make a name for himself under the supernova-hot lights of the Dallas Cowboys, Romo had to negotiate a new contract not once, but twice. Add to the fact he was once a teammate of Dak Prescott and, needless to say, there are few human beings standing on the third planet from the sun who can actually empathize with the financial impasse facing two-time Pro Bowl quarterback and the team that selected him with a fourth-round compensatory pick in 2016.
Granted, not all is equal here — Romo having not been drafted at all but also never once having been forced into playing under a franchise tag — but when it comes to what’s going on in North Texas right now, the former All-Pro quarterback and current No. 1 NFL on CBS color analyst didn’t pull any punches in explaining his view on Prescott’s situation.
While Romo believes the list of talented QBs in the NFL today far exceeds that of yesteryear, he also differentiates between an average signal caller and a great one. And at that point, when I posed the question to him in an exclusive Zoom call on Wednesday leading into Week 2, he displayed a lot of confidence in the Cowboys to finally pull the trigger and agree to terms with Prescott on a long-term deal in 2021.
“I think it’ll get done … Yes, I know about the contract stuff,” Romo told me in a friendly Q&A prompted by his renewed role as operator for The Corona Hotline. “I’ve been through it before with the Cowboys. Quarterbacks now — it’s nothing more than they’re understanding their position in the sport. And they’re starting to get to a point where they understand the influence they have on the organization, and really their contribution to the football team and what that means.”
CBS Sports broke the news in February 2020 that talks were no longer mostly about money between Prescott and the Cowboys, but instead about the length of the deal. After months of being far apart on that talking point, Prescott stood firm on wanting no more than four years while the Cowboys dug in at five, and it was that very thin line that pushed them past the July 15 deadline — a Hail Mary conversation between he and team exec Stephen Jones failing to cement in time to get contract language ironed out.
For those wondering why Prescott wouldn’t simply cave to the fifth-year ask, it’s because COVID-19 revenue impact notwithstanding, the salary cap is expected to spike in the next two years due to an infusion of cash from renewed TV contracts and and gambling revenues. Signing a four-year deal allows Prescott to renegotiate sooner, and under a more spacious cap structure.
“In basketball it’s been happening for a long time now,” said Romo. “LeBron James, years back, decided to — instead of taking this seven-year or long-term guarantee, he decided to say, ‘Ah, I’m going to go two years.’ Because who’s not going to want LeBron James in two years? It’s a position where you have the ability to control your environment [and] control your situation. Quarterbacks are starting to do the same thing basketball players have been doing.
“Instead of taking the long-term guarantee, they’re starting to take [fewer] years. Quarterbacks would forever take the guarantee just in case they were injured. What you’re finding is they’re not doing that near as much anymore, because they’re rare. Really good quarterbacks are rare. And if you’re rare, you can trust that someone’s going to like you enough to make you their quarterback, and multiple people will want you because it’s hard to have a really good quarterback in the National Football League.”
Entering his second consecutive contract year by way of a franchise tag that pays him $31.4 million in 2020 and increases to $37.7 million in 2021 — should a deal fail to land a third time — the market and Prescott’s play are working masterfully in his favor. He had a career year in 2019 from an individual standpoint, falling short of breaking Romo’s single-season passing mark by just two yards despite the Cowboys receivers leading the league in drops. Since then, he’s now seen megadeals come down the pike for both Patrick Mahomes (a comparison Stephen Jones himself made last week after tripling down on his belief a deal gets agreed to in 2021) and, of course, Deshaun Watson in early September.
And as Romo points out, Prescott and his representative Todd France — the latter once a top negotiator for CAA (the firm who negotiated Romo’s then-historic deal in Dallas) — know exactly what they’re doing.
“Really, it’s not even four years,” Romo said. “You’ll be back at the table in 2.5 years.”
While Mahomes did indeed break the sky open with his 10-year deal, Watson’s fell right in line with Prescott’s four-year ask, as did those of Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz before him. With the new norm being four years on QB extensions, and Prescott continuing to show he’s the face of the franchise — also noting he wants to be “a Cowboy for the rest of my career” — the onus is now on the front office in Dallas to relent and shave the fifth year off the deal, unless they can somehow convince him it’s a good idea.
“I think Dak Prescott bet on himself,” said Romo of the talks. “The seven- and eight-year deals are starting to go away, and what’s happening is teams are having to adjust, because it’s going to help salary cap when you have a guy you know is going to be there a long time. You can always roll the money back to the next year — push it back. And at that position [especially], you always knew he’d be there.
“Even if he has to miss games or something, you knew he was going to be your quarterback because it’s just hard to find them. It’s not like you can replace a really good one the next year. Dak bet on himself and, in a lot of ways, it’s what a lot of people are doing, just knowing they’re unique and they have the ability to help a football team win.”
It’s also key to note, now that Romo mentions availability, that Prescott hasn’t missed a single game in his four-year NFL career, which is something that can’t be said for Watson, Goff and most certainly not Wentz. All told, Romo sees justification for where Prescott stands on the length of the deal and where the Cowboys are planting their flag.
“I understand both sides,” said the former four-time Pro Bowler and NFL passing leader. “I understand Dak’s side because he’s right. And the Cowboys are right. There is no perfect answer here. …
“It’s just a different time right now, where QBs are understanding their leverage and teams are having to adjust what they’re doing. I think it’ll still get done. It’s obviously not ideal for anyone, but I think it’ll get done.”
From someone who was once in the same position, with the same team, and who knows all parties involved quite well — that’s quite the vote of confidence.
Time will ultimately reveal if Romo is correct in walking in lockstep with what’s being said by the Joneses and Prescott. But anyone who’s seen Romo go from the ranks of the undrafted to Jerry Jones guaranteeing him a spot in the Cowboys’ coveted Ring of Honor, and then to the one of the NFL’s premier analysts thanks in part to his real-time clairvoyance landing with the accuracy of an arrow from Hawkeye — knows it’s probably not wise to wager against his predictions.
Place your bets folks, and let’s see if the Cowboys and Prescott can’t finally jump the broom soon. Romo’s crystal ball feels like it’s just a matter of time.