Is Tony Romo Worth His $108 Million Contract?

When Tony Romo signed a six-year contract extension worth $108 million, the football world let out a collective gasp. How could they give him that much? He’s never won a big playoff game! Won’t he just throw it to the other team? Romo, the current face of a Cowboys franchise that has wallowed in mediocrity for much of the past decade, was deemed by most pundits and fans as the perfect symbol for the struggles in Big D. On paper, he boasts impressive numbers, with advanced metrics arguing that he’s a top-10 passer in the league.

Last season, Romo ranked third in the league in passing yards, fifth in completion percentage, sixth in touchdowns and 10th in quarterback rating. But the critics will tell you the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Like the rest of his team, Romo has a penchant for failing in big moments, throwing untimely interceptions and making bad fourth quarter decisions. No. 9 is 1-3 in playoff appearances, and has led the Cowboys to crushing week 17 defeats in 2008, 2012 and against the Redskins last season. Those games were must-wins for a Dallas team trying to make the playoffs, and Romo simply couldn’t get it done. As someone who has followed the Cowboys closely for the past decade, his three-interception meltdown against Washington last season almost seemed inevitable.

Why, then, would Jerry Jones be willing to guarantee a man who only has one playoff victory to his name $55 million dollars to be his quarterback for the next six seasons? Why, when we have seen cheap rookies and sophomores like Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick win clutch games with limited experience, would the Cowboys give a soon-to-be-33-year-old one of the richest deals in franchise history? Instead, as Romo-haters assert, would it not be better to use a first or second round draft pick to groom a potential savior to the organization, using their money to fortify other areas of need (say, offensive line or secondary)? Let another team overpay for a player who can’t deliver key wins, they say.

Ahh, but the grass is always greener on the other side for Cowboys fans. That’s the wrong expression at play here. Instead, I would point to, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” What Dallas has is a top-10 quarterback in a league controlled by them. If the MVP award were actually given to the league’s most valuable player, a quarterback would take it every single year. With rule changes making it harder on defenses to defend the pass and with running backs suffering from durability issues as players get faster and stronger, the quarterback has emerged as the most pivotal position on the field. Without a capable player under center, you might as well start looking forward to next year. I would argue that at least 16 teams (that’s half if you’re counting at home) have yet to find a quarterback capable of leading their team to a Super Bowl victory. The Cowboys aren’t one of them. Currently, several metrics point to the fact that Romo is just as good – if not better – than 2013 Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Those same metrics are the ones that have been driving contract negotiations for the 21st century. As a result, we see how two factors come together to form the six-year, $108 million contract Romo signed last week: the Cowboys’ desire to keep a valuable commodity and the market dictating an inflated price for that commodity. It’s not so much that Romo deserves $55 million guaranteed, but that he’s worth $55 million guaranteed.