Let's start by saying this: Tony Romo is not going to play for the Cowboys next year. And that's OK. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott, the cost-controlled quarterback of their dreams. Romo gets to chase the Super Bowl that's eluded him throughout his otherwise stellar career. As much as the Cowboys might like him to hang around and mentor Prescott, Romo doesn't want to do it, and $24.7 million is more than even Jerry Jones will pay for a disgruntled backup.
Questions remain about how it will all go down. If Romo is released during the spring or traded, the remaining dead money on his contract, $19.6 million accrued through years of contract restructuring, will accelerate onto the Cowboys 2017 salary cap. If the Cowboys designate him as their June 1 release, a portion of the money, $8.9 million, can go on the team's 2018 cap. Basically, the Cowboys will either have a small cap savings in 2017 followed by an enormous cap savings in 2018, or two medium sized cap savings followed by an enormous cap savings in 2019. Either way, the team will have far more payroll flexibility than it's had at any time in the salary cap era.
For the moment, the unanswered questions above have left Romo in flux. Late last week, ESPN's Ed Werder, who's as plugged in as anyone to the inner machinations of the The Star, said that he believed Romo would be released sometime in March, ahead of the NFL Draft. Romo's contract, according to Werder, is too burdensome for teams to be willing to trade anything of value for the 37-year-old.
Assuming that's the case, let's take a look at where Romo might be headed as his last couple of weeks with the Cowboys wind down.
Houston — The Texans have everthing that Romo needs to get to a Super Bowl. Jadeveon Clowney and a returning JJ Watt will lead a championship-caliber defense in 2017. DeAndre Hopkins is a talented deep threat and Will Fuller, Hopkins fellow wide receiver, is poised to break out. All Houston needs is competent play at quarterback, and they'd be one of the five best teams in the AFC. Houston also benefits from its proximity, should Romo be choosing where he's headed. The only thing holding Romo back from the Texans is incumbent Houston starter Brock Osweiler's $16 million 2017 salary, but it's easy to see him as Romo's expensive backup.
Denver — The situation in Denver is similar to the one in Houston. The Broncos have an outstanding defense, one of the league's best wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and a train wreck at quarterback. Broncos general manager John Elway has been down this road before, too, bringing in Peyton Manning to Denver after Manning was released by the Colts. Elway and Manning won a Super Bowl together in 2015, but the Broncos may be tempted to let Paxton Lynch, whom they drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft, develop rather than spending $10 million-plus on Romo.
Kansas City — Kansas City has been as good a regular season team as there's been in football over the last two season, but they've been stymied in the playoffs by quarterback Alex Smith's limited skill set. Romo's deep passing ability would make Chiefs playmakers such as Tyreek Hill and Jeremy Maclin even more dangerous, because Andy Reid's offense wouldn't have to work as hard to get them the ball. Despite Smith's reputation as a winning quarterback, the Chiefs are a strong dark horse to land Romo.
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Chicago — The Bears need a quarterback. They're ready to move on from Jay Cutler and could use a star to re-establish themselves in the eyes of Chicago residents. For at least the next couple of years, however, they're still unlikely to be very good. It seems unlikely, despite Chicago's charms, that Romo would elect to deal with a blustery Soldier Field in December.
San Francisco — If Romo didn't care about winning, the 49ers would be a perfect fit. Newly hired head coach Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius, fully capable of helping Romo post gaudy numbers and buttress his Hall of Fame credentials. San Francisco is a lovely city, too, but the 49ers are, like the Bears, still a couple of years from competing for a championship.
New York Jets — The Jets straddle the line between contender and pretender. While they were bad last year, they did go 10-6 in 2015. With Romo and the potential addition of star LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the sixth pick in the draft, the Jets could be immediately competitive. That Romo could write himself into New York City lore by leading the Jets to their first championship since the 1968 season doesn't hurt either.