With the luxury of choice, Tony Romo's free agency should be a two-team race

1:00 | NFL
Three players poised to cash in during free agency
Wednesday March 8th, 2017

The first sign that the Cowboys would release Tony Romo before the start of free agency—news that broke Wednesday afternoon—came on a weekend in mid-December.

Seated to the right of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Romo watched as Jones’s grandson, John Stephen Jones, captained Highland Park High School to a state title victory in AT&T Stadium. By this point, Romo had already given his speech, and the franchise had been handed over to Dak Prescott. But this visual of Romo seated to Jones’s right, much like a family member would be, showed the Cowboys would do right by Romo.

We all knew they couldn’t trade Romo: The Cowboys didn’t want a backup in 2017 at that cap number, and the other 31 NFL teams knew it. Perhaps they could have kept him as bait late in free agency or even after the draft. It would have been plausible to think that the same man who fired Tom Landry and Tex Schramm could have done this to Romo, holding him hostage for weeks and forcing a quarterback-needy team into a corner. But then we saw Uncle Tony at John Stephen’s game, and it became clear that not only would the Cowboys let Romo walk, but they’d do it before the start of free agency to give him as many options as possible.

There appear to be just two potential landing spots for Romo: Denver and Houston. The Chiefs loudly proclaimed Alex Smith as their quarterback, and the reported discussions of a three-way deal involving Washington, Dallas and San Francisco were never going to lead anywhere.

Plenty of other teams need quarterbacks, but Romo seems destined for just one of two locations. Chicago is starting its walk down the aisle with Mike Glennon. Cleveland will continue to grovel at Bill Belichick’s feet for Jimmy Garoppolo. But Houston is a short plane ride from the only home Romo has known since 2003, and Denver just did this dance for four years with a respected veteran QB, resulting in two Super Bowl appearances and one victory.

Romo is a rental, and Houston GM Rick Smith and Denver boss John Elway know that they’ll only get three or so years out of him at most. This win-now league requires a quarterback, and both men should know they can’t win in January with their current starters or win in any January soon with the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

Is Romo brittle? Maybe. He’ll be 37 in a month and is coming off a season where he fractured his back, one season after he twice broke his collarbone. But the year before that, Romo was Hashtag Dez Caught It away from taking the Cowboys to the NFC title game for the first time in two decades.

If you’re weighing your options, and on one side you have Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Tom Savage, Paxton Lynch or one of this year’s first-round quarterbacks, and on the other side you have the risk of Romo breaking his back again, you roll the dice and hope lightning doesn’t strike twice.

Both Houston and Denver should be attractive to Romo. Either team could have the best defense in the league next season (Houston was No. 1 last year without J.J. Watt). The best defense Romo played with as a starter was in 2008, when Dallas ranked eighth.

With a competent quarterback, the Texans could very well have a top-five receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. In Denver, Romo would be taken under the wing of one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks. Houston has a clear road to the playoffs playing in the historically weak AFC South, while Denver is guaranteed six games next year in what was, and likely will be again, the league’s toughest division.

Romo will probably go on dates with both Denver and Houston in the coming days or weeks. He’ll weigh the pros and cons, and maybe the two teams finish in a tie. If that’s the case, here’s a potential tiebreaker.

The Cowboys aren’t on the Texans’ 2017 schedule. But they are on Denver’s.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.