KUSA—If it matters, and apparently it does, a deal between Tony Romo and the Denver Broncos would satisfy the “Do-Right Rule” that has been stated, along with a wink-wink, by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Multiple NFL sources tell 9News Broncos general manager John Elway and the team are ready to pursue Romo if and when the quarterback is released by Jones and the Dallas Cowboys.
One agent source also told 9News that Romo’s preferred choice is the Broncos. Denver is not the only team expected to pursue Romo, though. There was buzz at the NFL Combine the Houston Texans would also be interested, but would they give up on Brock Osweiler after paying him $21 million in 2016, his first year with the team, and another $16 million guaranteed this season?
And would Houston be in violation of Jones’ “Do-Right Rule” as the Cowboy and Texans’ franchises wade in some of the same State of Texas revenue streams?
Other teams in the quarterback market would be San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, the New York Jets and possibly Buffalo. None of those teams, though, have been nearly as competitive as the Broncos in recent years. The assumption is Romo at this late stage in his career would not want to be part of a rebuilding project.
Jones told the Dallas media Saturday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that he and Romo have an implied agreement. The implication behind the agreement is Romo won’t sign with a team that could directly damage the Cowboys’ chances of reaching the Super Bowl.
This came in the context of dismissing a report that had Romo winding up with NFC East rival Washington as part of a three-team deal. Jones indicated Romo isn’t going to wind up with Washington, even if he is released to free agency.
The Broncos, as an AFC team that doesn’t play in the Cowboys’ National Football Conference, much less its division, presumably would meet with Jones’ approval. (Although the Broncos do play the Cowboys this season at soon-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High on a date to be determined but better believe it would have Sunday Night Football written all over it).
“It is implied that we will work in the best way we can for the mutual interest of Tony and the Cowboys,” Jones said during a press gathering inside the Cowboys’ bus. “That was just implied. That’s important here. Now we’ve got to abide by every league rule. We can’t have agreements without it being within the boundaries of the NFL. But when you’ve got a situation like we got, we’ll do the do-right rule. That’s it. Very important. We do the do-right rule. We have that kind of relationship.”
If the “Do Right Rule” is reciprocal, Jones will maximize Romo’s ability to get a favorable deal and team before free agency officially opens at 2 p.m. Thursday.
There is not expected to be a trade market for Romo because of the hefty, $44 million in base salaries remaining on the final three years of his current deal and his contract’s even steeper salary cap ramifications.
The Broncos willingness to visit with Romo would not necessarily mean an agreement despite their mutual interest. Any Broncos’ deal with Romo would figure to include conditions that would protect the team against injury.
For instance, the Broncos could offer Romo a multiyear deal worth between $8 million to 10 million a year, but incentives and escalators based on playing time, performance and team success could move his earnings beyond a $15 million annual average.
Romo’s 11-year stint as the Dallas starting quarterback has been curtailed by three left collarbone breaks and three back injuries. He has played in just four games, plus one series in the past two seasons, and he turns 37 years old in six weeks.
When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning to a five-year, $96 million contract in 2012 as the quarterback was 36 years old and coming off a neck injury, only the first year and $18 million was guaranteed. The next two years at $20 million each became guaranteed only after Manning passed a neck exam.
It’s possible Romo could receive similar contract provisions with his collarbone and back.
The Broncos want to at least explore whether the risk is worth taking because when healthy, Romo has been considered one of the league’s top 10 quarterbacks. In fact, his 97.1 career passer rating ranks third all-time – behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady -- among quarterbacks who have played in at least 100 games.
Romo led the Cowboys to regular-season records of 13-3 in 2007, 11-5 in 2009 and 12-3 in 2014. However, he has been part of just two playoff wins in his career, none past the first round.
Perhaps, the most surprising element of the Broncos’ pursuit of Romo is it would come one year after the team traded up in the first round to select quarterback Paxton Lynch. But after mostly backing up Trevor Siemian in his rookie year, it appears the Broncos’ brain trust believe that while Lynch can eventually become a franchise-type quarterback, he is a project who could benefit from another year or two of development.
Siemian, meanwhile, was one of the league’s most pleasant surprises in 2016. A seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Northwestern, Siemian started 7-2 last season before he was part of four losses in his last five games. He threw for 3,401 yards and 18 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
If the Broncos were to acquire Romo, Elway figures to almost instantly receive trade requests for Siemian, starting with the San Francisco 49ers. New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan communicated during his head coach interview with the Broncos he was impressed with Siemian, who is scheduled to make a ridiculously affordable $615,000 this season and $705,000 in 2018 as part of his rookie contract.
There is little question Romo would impede the progress of the Broncos’ two young quarterbacks. But it would also be a case of Elway’s desire to go full-out, every single year, to give the Broncos the best chance to win the Super Bowl.
Denver already has what many would consider a Super Bowl-caliber defense, but the window on its excellence may be closing. The team is trying to re-sign pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, who turns 35 on July 31, but he is expected to first test the free-agent market. Star cornerback Aqib Talib is 31, missed three games last season with a back injury and is awaiting word as to whether he will be disciplined by the league in the form of a suspension because of an accidental self-inflicted shooting incident last summer. And strong safety T.J. Ward is in the final year of his contract.
The Broncos are expected to add a defensive tackle (possibly by re-signing Sylvester Williams) and a 5-technique defensive end in free agency.
As for the team’s offense, Elway will attempt to add a left tackle (possibly by re-signing Russell Okung) and right guard through free agency regardless of whether Romo becomes available this week.
As for running back, tight end and receiver, the Broncos will likely wait for the draft that is considered deep at those positions, although they could consider a free agent whose market falls.
Romo or no Romo, Elway plans on making the Broncos Super Bowl contenders again after his team missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record for the first time in his six years as the team’s general manager.