The Other 31: Cowboys invest heavily this offseason in Tony Romo

May 22, 2013

Tony Romo, shown here throwing a pass against the Redskins in a 2011 game, signed a six-year contract extension with the Cowboys this offseason. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Dallas Cowboys

Background: Schedule | Depth chart | Draft results | Home page

Last season’s record: 8-8

Key players released: DE Marcus Spears, LB Dan Connor

Retired: S Gerald Sensabaugh

Key free agents lost: TE John Phillips, WR Kevin Ogletree, LB Victor Butler, DE Kenyon Coleman, CB Mike Jenkins, P Brian Moorman, RB Felix Jones

Key free agents re-signed: LS L.P. Ladouceur, LB Anthony Spencer, WR Anthony Armstrong, LB Ernie Sims

Key free agents added: S Will Allen, LB Justin Durant

Draft:

Rd. 1 (No. 31 overall)… Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin

2 (47)… Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State

3 (74)… Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

3 (80)… J.J. Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern

4 (114)… B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary

5 (151)… Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State

6 (185)… DeVonte Holloman, LB, South Carolina

Analysis: The Cowboys’ biggest move of this offseason involved a player who would have been eligible for free agency not this year, but next offseason. They agreed with Tony Romo in March to a six-year, $108 million contract extension, accomplishing the dual tasks of clearing salary cap space this offseason and tying themselves to Romo as their quarterback for the foreseeable future.

Romo had one year left on his previous deal and now is to make $119.5 million over the next seven seasons. The contract extension gave the Cowboys an additional $5 million in salary cap room this offseason, lowering Romo’s cap number this year from $16.8 million to $11.8 million.

The Cowboys thus have given Romo, who turned 33 in April, a financial endorsement that he will find a way to deliver when it matters in future seasons. Romo’s ability to do that has been questioned, especially after the Cowboys lost regular season finales the past two years with the NFC East title at stake. The Cowboys missed the playoffs both times. Romo threw three interceptions in last season’s defeat to the Washington Redskins and he has one career playoff victory.

Romo is to miss the Cowboys’ organized team activities this offseason after undergoing surgery for a cyst on his back. He is expected to be ready for training camp.

The Cowboys were quiet in free agency while dealing with their salary cap issues, created in part because they had to absorb the second half of their two-year, $10 million cap reduction by the league for the way in which they structured players’ contracts during the sport’s uncapped year in 2010. The Cowboys added safety Will Allen and linebacker Justin Durant and re-signed linebacker Anthony Spencer after using their franchise-player tag on him. They released defensive end Marcus Spears and lost cornerback Mike Jenkins and tailback Felix Jones as free agents.

They received some criticism on draft night for trading down in the first-round order and using the 31st overall choice on Wisconsin center Travis Frederick. Some draft analysts said taking Frederick in the opening round was a bit of a stretch. The Cowboys did give Romo some pass-catching help by taking tight end Gavin Escobar and wide receiver Terrance Williams, and they got some badly needed help at safety by selecting J.J. Wilcox.

There is every reason to believe that the Cowboys, again, will be in the thick of the NFC East race. And there is every reason to believe that their chances, again, will depend on how well Romo does in crunch time. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is heavily invested in Romo to come through.

Why Redskins fans should care: The two teams played for the NFC East title in the regular season finale last season, with the Redskins prevailing. This season, they’re scheduled to play a Sunday night game in Dallas on Oct. 13 and a Dec. 22 game at FedEx Field. It’s the Redskins’ second-to-last game of the regular season, with the finale scheduled against the New York Giants on the road.

Conversation starter: Is Tony Romo worth the contract that the Cowboys gave him?

Previous Other 31 reviews:  Cardinals | Falcons | Ravens | Bills | Panthers | Bears | Bengals | Browns

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Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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