It has long been expected that Tony Romo will not be with the Dallas Cowboys by the time this offseason is over. The Cowboys caught lightning in a bottle when they drafted Dak Prescott in the fourth round of last year’s draft, and Prescott’s play while Romo was out with yet another back injury made it clear that he’s the Cowboys’ quarterback of the future. Romo still wants to play, though, so the leaguewide consensus has been that the Cowboys will either trade or release him this offseason. 

According to a report from ESPN’s Ed Werder, Romo expects to be released, not traded. 

There had previously been reports that there would be a robust trade market for Romo’s services, which makes sense given his track record and the lack of high-level quarterbacks available this offseason. His age and his injury history both over the long-term and in recent seasons suggest that the compensation wouldn’t be as high as a player of his skill level might normally garner, but it still seems likely that there would be some kind of market for him. 

The Cowboys don’t just want to rid themselves of Romo’s deal, though. They want to do right by him. He was their starting quarterback for a decade and he is extremely close with both owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett. And being released rather than traded would afford Romo two advantages: first, he would have his pick of all 32 teams in the league rather than just the ones that are willing to pony up compensation for him; and second, he could negotiate a new deal that guaranteed him a place on his new team’s roster beyond the 2017 season. (The way his contract is currently structured all but ensures that he’d get cut after the season.) 

The Cowboys would save $5.1 million against the cap if they released him straight up, dropping his cap hit from $24.7 million to $19.6 million. If they designated him as a post-June 1 release, however, they could split the cap hit over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, incurring a $12.7 million charge in the first year and $8.9 million in the second. It’d leave them without a high-level backup quarterback to Prescott and rob them of a chance to get value out of what is likely to be Romo’s final year with the team, but it would create ample space for them to, say, go out and address their issues along the defensive front. 

It’s a tough balancing act the Cowboys have to strike, and how they sort out their options figures to be one of the biggest stories of the offseason.