|Witten says Romo's an 'elite' quarterback. We agree. (US Presswire)|
Last offseason, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was the subject of much scrutiny after the quarterback put himself in the "same class" as Tom Brady. Since Eli was right about that, we're going to need a new quarterback to obsess over this year with respect to the elite nature of his football skills.
"There's high expectations for Cowboys," Witten told Joey Richards of the Abilene Reporter-News this week. "There's been some great quarterbacks who have come through that organization. You look at Roger Staubach and Troy (Aikman), and the expectations are Super Bowls. (Romo is) a phenomenal, cool quarterback. He's an elite quarterback. But until we win the big game, the criticism is going to come.
"We understand that, and we have high expectations. Tony is a phenomenal player and a phenomenal player for our football team."
This is a bold statement by Witten, but ... not really. Romo is, in my opinion, more or less an elite quarterback. He threw for 4,077 yards, 30 touchdowns (to just 10 interceptions) and completed a very impressive 66.3 percent of his passes in 2011.
Romo ranked fifth in touchdown passes, seventh in passing yards, third in completion percentage, fourth in interception percentage (1.9 percent), seventh in yards per attempt and fourth in quarterback rating. He had a stupendous season.
That the Cowboys finished 8-8 and that his coach made some poor playcalls and that the defense couldn't stop anyone from scoring late in games has nothing to do with Romo, at least not directly.
People like to remember specific situations that they think define Romo as "not clutch," but that's as tired as the whole "LeBron James is a choker" narrative in the NBA. (Coincidentally, LeBron is a Cowboys fan, so maybe he can pass along some wisdom if the Heat close things out this week.)
The reality is that, as quarterback of the high-profile Cowboys, Romo has essentially ended up in the same position Manning once found himself. Manning won a second Super Bowl -- largely because he stepped up big time in 2011 -- and no one doubts his place in the NFL's hierarchy now.
That hierarchy is a fluid situation, though. I obviously wouldn't take Romo over Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. But those guys are the "super-duper-elite class" in my opinion. Eli, Peyton Manning (because of injury), Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Romo are all part of the elite group as well. And there are some fringe elite guys -- like Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick and Cam Newton -- capable of taking a step into that group in 2012.
But it's mostly muddled, except for one thing: certain guys have rings. Argue about someone being elite or not belonging in the elite group and eventually the debate will turn toward whether they've won a Super Bowl. It's why Eli, Peyton, Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Brees stand up top on these lists we create.
So Witten is correct -- the criticism is going to keep coming until Romo holds the Lombardi Trophy, regardless of the quality numbers he puts up.
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