Ever since it became clear that Dak Prescott was the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback not just of the future, but the present, it has been considered only a matter of time before Tony Romo moves on and finds a new team. Whether via a trade or release, it’s widely expected that Romo will open next season on a team other than the Cowboys.
Recent reports had indicated that the Cowboys would find a rather robust trade market for Romo, but ESPN.com reported Thursday morning that the 10-year starter expects to be released this offseason.
That expectation changes the calculus in regards to where he winds up in 2017, opening the door for more teams to pursue his services. SportsLine’s Larry Hartstein spoke to legendary Las Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White and got some information on how landing Romo would affect the 2017 over/under lines for several different teams that oddsmakers have identified as favorites for Romo’s services.
Below, we’ll explore six favored destinations, focusing on everything from odds (via Bookmaker.eu) to cap space to fit.
Denver Broncos (+300)
The Broncos are currently Bookmaker.eu’s favorite to have Romo on their roster for the 2017 season. Newly arrived coach Vance Joseph has stated that he’ll hold an open training camp competition between incumbent starter Trevor Siemian and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch and free-agent linebacker (and former Cowboys great) DeMarcus Ware has stated that while a reunion with Romo would be nice he believes the Broncos should stick with those two players.
The Broncos, though, are nevertheless believed to be interested in Romo should he become available as a free agent. GM John Elway has pursued a late-career veteran whose team had moved on and who was looking for a shot at a ring alongside an elite defense before. It worked out pretty well with Peyton Manning.
Denver already spent draft capital to move up and grab Lynch last season and thus seems more likely to be a fit for Romo if the Cowboys release him. The Broncos currently have $33 million in cap space, per Spotrac, plenty of room to hit him on the books and re-sign some of their important free agents. He’d be a terrific fit on the field, firing bullets to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
If he does indeed wind up in Denver, White said that he’d bump the Broncos’ current over/under from nine wins to either 10.5 or 11. For what it’s worth, there wasn’t a single team in 2016 that had its over/under set higher than 10.5 wins. The Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Seahawks and Panthers all led the way with over/unders of 10.5 last season.
Dallas Cowboys (+350)
There is, of course, a chance Romo stays put. His current contract carries a $24.7 million cap hit for the 2017 season. Releasing him only saves the Cowboys $5.1 million against the cap if they do it straight up. That’s not exactly enough room to add a player of potentially similar impact. Designating him as a post-June 1 release would lower his 2017 hit to $12.7 million (and leave $8.9 million for 2018) and give them some more wiggle room to get that caliber of player, but it would also extend out his dead money hit over two years.
The thing about the Cowboys keeping him, though, is that Romo wants to play, and he won’t be doing that in Dallas. The Cowboys are committed to Prescott, as they should be. You have to take advantage of a fourth-rounder that becomes a star QB while he’s still on a bargain contract. That’s exactly why so many expect Romo to be moving on.
Dallas will surely pursue all possible avenues for a trade before electing to release Romo. A player of his talent should be able to garner at least moderate draft compensation and potentially more, especially given the cool quarterback market this offseason, but his age, injury history, and the fact that everyone knows he’s available (and that the Cowboys want to do right by him and give him a shot to start and win) could limit the market.
Chicago Bears (+400)
The Bears are widely expected to move on from their own veteran quarterback this offseason, as they can create $14 million in cap space by cutting ties with Jay Cutler. Doing so would give them over $70 million in cap space, per Spotrac -- plenty of room to sign Romo. However, it is reportedly his desire to play for a team that is in a position to contend for a Super Bowl. The Bears are nowhere near that level. Per White, their 2017 over/under would be 4 with Cutler, 4.5 with current Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, and 5 or 5.5 with Romo. Given how far away they are from true contention, it doesn’t make sense for them to surrender a draft pick in a trade for Romo, either.
San Francisco 49ers (+600)
The 49ers, like the Bears, are expected to move on from their incumbent quarterback -- in this case, Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers, like the Bears, have plenty of available cap space with which to sign Romo this offseason. Spotrac pegs them as nearly $82 million under the 2017 cap line as of this writing. And the 49ers, like the Bears, are nowhere near the kind of Super Bowl-contending team that Romo would reportedly like to sign with. (And thus, as is the case with the Bears, it does not make sense for the 49ers to surrender a draft pick for Romo.)
White said he’d post the 49ers’ win total at 4.5 with Kaepernick, compared to 6 with Romo. Kyle Shanahan’s offense would be a great fit for a player of Romo’s skill set, but there is just not enough talent there on either side of the ball for Romo to justify making the Bay Area his next home.
Houston Texans (+800)
From a football standpoint, the Texans make a ton of sense for Romo. They have a terrific defense that would take the pressure of having to carry the entire team off of his shoulders. They have a high-level playmaker at wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, a field-stretching burner in Will Fuller, a tight end over the middle in C.J. Fiedorowicz, and a stud running back in Lamar Miller. Their offensive line even held up pretty well during the 2016 season. Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes, which mix zone runs with play-action and call for a high-efficiency passer, are a terrific fit as well.
The issue is that the Texans are already on the hook for a $19 million cap hit to Brock Osweiler for the 2017 season. Cutting him would actually add $6 million to their cap and create a $25 million dead money charge, so he’s not going anywhere. Trading for Romo and carrying his entire base salary seems out of the question, given the astronomical amount of money the Texans would then be paying their two QBs. Even signing him would leave them paying a massive chunk to those two players.
White said he’d set Houston’s over/under at 8.5 with Osweiler under center and bump it to 10 if the Texans got Romo. That’s a hefty bump that would make the Texans the clear favorite in the AFC South and one of the overall favorites in the AFC. It’s just a matter of whether the Texans can pull it off financially, and whether Jerry Jones would be OK losing Romo to a team in the same state.
The field (+250)
There are 27 other teams in the league, and Bookmaker.eu actually considers it more likely that Romo’s eventual destination will be one of those 27 than one of the above-mentioned five.
The one that’s come up the most is the Kansas City Chiefs, who like the Broncos and Texans have an excellent defense but could use an upgrade at quarterback to take them to the next level. Andy Reid has done great work with Alex Smith and other below-average quarterback options in the past, and Romo would likely be the most talented QB he’s ever worked with during his head coaching career. Kansas City has a good line and a bunch of playmakers, so the fit makes sense. They could save $9.4 million against the cap by cutting Smith, or they could attempt to get draft compensation from another team by putting him on the market. There’d be a lot of moving parts involved in getting Romo to KC, but the payoff could be huge.
Other teams like the Jets (always interested in famous quarterbacks), Bills (possibly moving on from Tyrod Taylor), Browns (haven’t had a good quarterback since re-entering the league), and the Redskins (if Kirk Cousins leaves) figure to have varying degrees of interest in Romo as well, but aren’t considered likely to be his next employer.