As we embark on the retirement of Tony Romo and begin to reminisce on the highs and lows of his career, there is a bigger story under the surface. People may remember Tony Romo for his comeback wins, crushing losses, underdog story or history of injuries, but few will recall how he was a major key in management changing their philosophies and molding the culture for the future success of the franchise.
The Dallas Cowboys have been deemed an average franchise in terms of success since 2000. They have not played in the NFC Championship game since their last Super Bowl victory in 1995. After the Aikman years, the bridge between Aikman and Romo was a long and disappointing journey. At this point, it was clear that Jerry Jones had put the Cowboys in a toxic situation. Luckily, the Cowboys discovered a hidden gem with Romo and were able to attain some of the previous success they had in the Aikman days. Unfortunately, Romo’s early success hid the truth about the Cowboys toxic and failing philosophies. Since 2000, the Cowboys have not retained a head coach for more than 4 years, pre-Jason Garrett. From 2006-2012 the Cowboys whiffed on a few first round picks, most notably, Bobby Carpenter, Felix Jones, and Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys during this time were also notorious for ridiculous trades and big busts in free agency. Whether it be trading a first round pick for Roy Williams, signing team wrecker Terrell Owens, or over spending in free agency, the Cowboys could not get it right.
The Cowboys soon came to realize the truth of the state of the franchise after Romo’s first injury during the 2010 season. The result of the injury was a 6-10 record and the Cowboys upper management realizing that their roster and philosophy is just not good enough. When Jason Garrett took over in 2010 it was clear that the Cowboys were going with a bright young mind to move the franchise in the right direction. After the debacle of a season in 2010, the Cowboys knew they needed to build around Tony Romo in order to keep him healthy and on the field. This lead to the Cowboys front office really attacking the draft in a new and unique way. The Cowboys were known to go for the splashy or glamour pick, but from 2011-2014, the Cowboys drafted 3 offensive linemen in the first round and were committed to change. They made smart decisions during these drafts such as “reaching” for Travis Frederick in the first round while other scouts had a 3rd round grade for him and passing up on Johnny Manziel for the sure fire stud Zack Martin.
The Cowboys truly gained their identity during the 2014 season when they shifted their focus on offense from a passing dominant attack to a 20-25 rush per game offense. This of course was due to the upgraded offensive line containing three first round picks and that season’s league leading rusher, Demarco Murray. It was clear that their new plan was working as the Cowboys won the division with a 12-4 record and Tony Romo, Demarco Murray and Dez Bryant had career best seasons.
Unfortunately, the 2015 season was cut short for Romo and his backups went 1-11 in his place, leading the Cowboys to the #4 overall pick. After the disappointing 2015 season, the Cowboys wanted to replicate the success they had in 2014. After being burned in the past with bust free agent signings, the Cowboys decided to be quiet in free agency and try to build the team through the draft and develop the talent themselves rather than take the talent from elsewhere. Looking back on it now, the 2016 draft for the Cowboys was one of their best ever. The Cowboys came away with stars in Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, key contributors in Anthony Brown and Maliek Collins, and a potential star in red shirt player Jaylon Smith.
We all know how the next story played out, Romo gets hurt and Dak and Zeke take the league by storm. Dak fell into the ideal situation, it was planned perfectly by Stephen Jones and the Cowboys front office for Tony Romo to stay healthy behind the best offensive line in the league and be a super bowl contender for the seasons to come. The Cowboys made the hardest decision to move on from their former star signal caller and hand the franchise over to Offensive Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott.
Tony Romo was truly a warrior for the Cowboys, playing through a punctured lung and broken bones. He was constantly facing adversity and often carrying a dysfunctional franchise and keeping them relevant. Most importantly, Romo was the main reason for the Cowboys change of culture throughout the franchise. In the past decade, the Cowboys have drafted the most Pro Bowl players in the NFL. They have decided to focus on building through the draft rather than throwing big money at free agents. Jason Garrett is about to be on the sideline for his 7th full season as Dallas Cowboys head coach. The Cowboys have also been able to keep offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for multiple seasons, as well as the scouting department.
Tony Romo will always be remembered for having a good career (78-49 record, 65% comp %, 34,183 yards, 248 td, 117 int and Cowboys leader in passing yards and tds all time), but it should not go unnoticed how he played a vital part in the change of culture and the current shining state of the franchise. Romo will go down as one of the most underrated and underappreciated quarterbacks in NFL history. The future is bright for the Cowboys and they have their old pal Tony Romo to thank for it.