When (if Ever) Should the Dallas Cowboys Extend Tony Romo's Contract?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 5, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field following the Cowboys 28-18 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys' offseason technically got underway five weeks ago after the 'Boys lost their 2012 finale to the Washington Redskins, but with the Super Bowl out of the way, coaches getting back to work and waivers open again, the real work starts again now. 

The Cowboys will likely spend the next five weeks working on signing some of the 15 impending unrestricted free agents on the roster, with linebacker Anthony Spencer certainly topping the priority list. Beyond that, there's free agency, which starts March 12, and the draft in late April. 

With NFL sanctions costing the team some cap space and with bloated contracts factoring in, Dallas is currently on track to have nothing to spend on outside free agents. That could change if the team is able to do something about the deals they have in place with guys like Miles Austin, Doug Free and Jay Ratliff, but there's also the Tony Romo factor. 

Two reasons why the Cowboys would be smart to lock Romo up to a long-term extension this offseason: 1) He's a damn good quarterback and Dallas will not find a better option in the draft or on the open market (and even so, it wouldn't hurt to try while also sticking with Romo), and 2) Romo's current deal will cost the 'Boys $17 million against the cap in 2013. 

The Cowboys could keep the pressure on Romo, who turns 34 when his contract expires next spring, by forcing him to play without a long-term deal in somewhat of a make-or-break 2013 campaign, but that would cost this team too much money in the short term.

The goal has to be to sign Romo to a three- or four-year extension now, but a lot of fans have already lost faith in Romo and Jerry Jones isn't celebrated for his patience. If Romo fails to put the Cowboys over the top in his eighth year as a starter, even some of his staunch defenders (like me) could begin to have their doubts. Jones certainly fears being tied to the guy for half-a-decade longer if that comes to fruition. 

There's also a strong possibility the Romo camp waits for Joe Flacco to set the market. Flacco is of course slated to become an unrestricted free agent in five weeks. His agent, Joe Linta, has reportedly been pushing hard for something in the range of $20 million per year. 

Flacco might be five years younger than Romo and a Super Bowl MVP, but the Romo camp can and most certainly will use the fact that Romo has outperformed Flacco during the regular season (by a significant margin) in order to justify whatever dollar figure they request. 

Regardless, I think the Cowboys have to suck it up and invest in Romo long term. Fans complain, but things would be a whole lot worse without him under center. Since becoming a starter in 2006, Romo is the NFL's highest-rated quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. He also has the second-highest yards-per-attempt average in the league during that span. 

Finding the next Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick is tempting, but there's a lot of risk involved there and there's a good chance you swing and miss. You have to take a chance either way, but doubling down on Romo right here and now makes more sense than the alternatives.