The biggest winner in the firing of Terrell Owens on Wednesday night? Easy. It's Tony Romo.
You cannot win National Football League games -- or North Dakota high school football games or Delaware Pop Warner games -- when the quarterback drops back to pass and has in the front of his mind, "I've got to make sure I look extra hard at one guy.'' And whether he'll admit it or not, that's the way Romo had to play the last three years, with one strategic hand tied behind his back.
A couple of weeks ago, Michael Irvin called to have me on his talk show in Dallas after I'd written that the Cowboys would fire Owens by the end of March. "How do you know?'' Irvin said. The fact is, I didn't know for sure. No one did. But as much as we in the media belittle owner Jerry Jones for being star-struck, I also knew this about Jones: He wouldn't let his team continue to be an embarrassment of riches. And the Cowboys were becoming more well-known for their inner churlishness than for football. Now Jones can look at his team, and his fan base, in the wake of cutting Pacman Jones and Owens, and he can honestly say: "The circus has left town. We're all about football now.''
I know a couple of times in the last three years Romo had to bend over backward, and do things he really didn't care to do, just to stroke Owens' ego and make sure T.O. didn't think he was favoring other players over him. Owens was the kind of high-maintenance player who just kills teams. Look at the recent winners, the big winners. Tom Brady hasn't felt a need, ever, to make sure he fed Randy Moss or Wes Welker or, going back a few years, Troy Brown. That's not the way the team worked. The Giants won when the Jeremy Shockey distraction went away late in their Super Bowl season; Eli Manning could drop back and never think about making a receiver happy, only about what was best to do on that play. Ditto Ben Roethlisberger last season.
Watch Romo this year. He'll be looser, happier, more relaxed -- and he'll have a better chance to win. In the 10 weeks the Cowboys employed Roy Williams after acquiring him from Detroit for first- and third-round picks, the wide receiver caught exactly 19 balls, for a 10.4-yard average, and one touchdown. One touchdown! You can't tell me Romo wasn't thinking, "I gotta make sure I throw more every week to T.O. or he'll freak out.'' That's no way to pilot a team. Romo will say all the right things about what a great teammate Owens was whenever he discusses this, but I can tell you it's political. He's thrilled at this move.
What now for T.O.? My guess is the Raiders, though as my radio buddy and SI.com colleague Ross Tucker suggested Thursday morning on Sirius NFL Radio, the Redskins have to be an intriguing thought. Washington owner Dan Snyder is always looking to tweak the Jones family, and if he signed Owens for something near the veteran minimum with enough incentives in the contract to make it interesting, the Redskins would be just what T.O. wants. Surely Owens is feeling absolutely embarrassed at being cut, and money is not what's going to make him happy. Revenge is. And two shots at the Cowboys this year, particularly with a fortified Redskins team, would appeal to Owens more than a good signing bonus and a couple of years of relative anonymity in Oakland.