When Should the Cowboys Start Tony Romo?

Dak Prescott or Tony Romo?

[the_ad id=”63198″]It wouldn’t be an NFL season without controversy for the Dallas Cowboys. In 2016, it surrounds the quarterback position.

After Tony Romo fractured his collarbone twice in 2015, the injury-prone signal caller had a long offseason of recovery ahead. He underwent Mumford surgery to shave down the injured clavicle in March, which had a six-to-eight week rehab window following the procedure. Romo exceeded expectations and returned early to participate in spring and summer workouts. All appeared well in Dallas.

Cue Week 3 of the preseason. Three snaps into the Dallas Cowboys’ third exhibition tilt against the Seattle Seahawks, Romo suffered a back injury. He learned that he would miss a significant amount of time due to the ailment that would linger well into the regular season. In the midst of it all, Dak Prescott dazzled in his predecessor’s absence.

dak-prescott-cowboysIn the preseason, Prescott completed 39-of-50 passes (78.0 percent) for 454 yards, seven total touchdowns (two rushing) and zero interceptions. The rookie signal caller created quite a stir among the organization, and the regular season hadn’t even begun yet.

After dropping the season opener to the New York Giants, Prescott led the Cowboys on a five-game winning streak and a 5-1 record overall. During that span, he completed 68.7 percent of his passes, seven touchdowns and one interception with a 103.9 passer rating while accumulating 67 yards and three scores on the ground. The one knock on the rookie is ball control, already committing four fumbles on the year.

As Prescott matured as an NFL quarterback, Romo continued to grow healthier. The Cowboys had their bye in Week 7, which ignited the Romo chatter entering the second-half of the season.

For the first time since sustaining his back injury, Romo participated in practice last week, albeit was in a limited fashion. He donned a helmet and uniform on Thursday but did not take part in team drills. Although he is still not cleared for a full practice, Romo’s impending return is on the horizon.

The Cowboys played in a pivotal Divisional matchup in Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles, which in all likelihood was the turning point for both Romo’s and Prescott’s season. The Eagles entered the contest ranked second in the league in total defense, third in sacks with 20.0 and fifth in give-away/ take-away differential with a commanding plus six in that category. They were the toughest opponent that the rookie faced to date.

While playing quarterback in the NFL is perhaps the most scrutinized, and pressure filled position in all of the sports, playing quarterback in Dallas magnifies the spotlight. The Cowboys beat the Eagles on Sunday night in a thrilling 29-23 overtime victory. However, Prescott played the worst game of his short career. He completed 19-of-39 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, adding seven rushes for 38 yards and a third score. Prescott finished the night with a 79.8 passer rating as a result of being pressured by Philadelphia’s immense pass rush and blitz packages. It was his worst rating percentage since the season opener against the New York Giants (69.4).

In the opening three-quarters of the game, the Cowboys, and Prescott started slow and looked sloppy in the effort. With 14:55 remaining in the second quarter, Dan Bailey kicked a field goal to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead. They appeared to be in control of the game. However, like any good football team, the Eagles answered with a one-yard touchdown run from Ryan Mathews to tie the game at 10 with 3:45 left in the first-half. Prescott, who missed throws that he regularly makes, led the offense to Philadelphia’s seven yard-line on a drive that began at their own 25. The result, a forced pass to Brice Butler that was picked off by Jordan Hicks in the end zone which led to a field goal to give Philadelphia a 13-10 lead to end the half.

In the third quarter, the Eagles continued to roll. They were the first to score in the second half, a five-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz to Jordan Matthews 6:22 into the period. Wentz, the other standout rookie in this primetime showdown, looked like the more seasoned passer. The Cowboys and Eagles traded successful field goal attempts on back-to-back drives to end the third quarter and to open the fourth. Philadelphia had a 23-13 lead with 14:13 remaining in the game, but they wouldn’t score again. After a Dallas punt, the Eagles could have put the Cowboys away, but a Wendell Smallwood fumble at their own 36 was recovered by Dallas’ Tyrone Crawford and proved to be the turning point of the game. The turnover led to a Cowboys field goal and put them within seven points of a tie. The clock was ticking.

[the_ad id=”66786″]With the Cowboys tired, beaten and on the ropes, Prescott put his early struggles behind him and rallied like a prize fighter would in a 12-round, heavyweight bout. The rookie showcased his poise down seven with time running out. With 6:26 left in regulation, he drove the Cowboys from his own 10 to the Eagles’ 22-yard-line and threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. Tied at 23 points a piece, the primetime showdown entered the overtime period.

On the first possession of the extra frame, Prescott delivered in Romo-esque fashion. He led the Cowboys 70-yards down the field and put the team in position for a walk-off win. From the Philadelphia five yard line, Prescott took the snap and maneuvered around the pocket, extended the play and found Jason Witten wide open in the end zone. He not only cemented the victory but possibly his era as the starting quarterback in Dallas as well.

Following the game, team owner Jerry Jones told the media that Romo is “not ready” to return to the field yet and named Prescott the starter for Week 9 against the Cleveland Browns. But what about moving forward?

After consecutive wins over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field and the Eagles on Sunday night, Prescott proved to his nay-sayers that he could overcome adversity and remain poised in high-pressure situations. Despite his struggles against Philadelphia, the Cowboys rallied around Prescott and pulled out a victory that was thought to be out of reach. Going back to Romo now would only upset the apple cart and bring Dallas’ momentum to a screeching halt.

Last season when Romo was sidelined, the team didn’t appear to believe that they could win with Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore under center. That, however, is not the case with Prescott. The Cowboys are playing with fire and a new life with their impressive rookie leading the way. They seem to be all-in for 2016, and the future.

If Romo is thrust back into the starting job without warrant, it could be a catastrophic decision that would interrupt the team’s mojo for the remainder of the year. However, the Cowboys will have to make a determination on the future of the 36-year-old win or lose. He has three years remaining on his current deal and will have a $24.7 million cap hit in 2017. A hefty price tag for a potential backup.

Barring injury to Prescott, or an unforeseen turn of events that would result in a losing streak, Romo should not start another game for the Cowboys in 2016. Dallas should retain his services for the remainder of the year in a backup capacity, but part ways in the offseason to avoid another controversy. The Cowboys belong to Prescott now, as Romo’s storied career with the club is nearing its end.

Prescott is the present and the future of the Cowboys. He should be on the field through the trials and tribulations that come along with playing quarterback at the professional level. The experience that he’s already gained, and will gain from here on out will pay dividends for years to come.

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