Looking at the Cowboys Options with Tony Romo

As a follow up to the Sporting News piece I wrote I had received a number of questions going over the various options Dallas would have with Tony Romo and how they would impact their salary cap, so let’s play some of those scenarios out and look at what does and does not make sense for the team to consider. We’ll compare these to the baseline scenario of just releasing (or trading) Romo outright, which would leave Dallas with a $19.6 million cap charge in 2017.

The June 1 Cut Designation

This is a popular idea because of the fact that the June 1 cut allows a team to spread the dead money charge across two seasons. In this case Dallas would take a $10.7 million cap charge in 2017 and an $8.9 million charge in 2018 rather than a $19.6 million charge all in 2017. The difficulty with this scenario is that Dallas would be forced to carry Romo on their roster at a $24.7 million cap charge through June 1. The savings are not reflected during free agency nor are the savings reflected at the start of the league year when a team must be salary cap compliant.

Here is how this plays out prior to June 1

YearJune 1 Cut Cut/TradeDifference
2017$24,700,000$19,600,000$5,100,000
2018$0$0$0
Total$24,700,000$19,600,000$5,100,000

And then post June 1

YearJune 1 Cut Cut/TradeDifference
2017$10,700,000$19,600,000-$8,900,000
2018$8,900,000$0$8,900,000
Total$19,600,000$19,600,000$0

Basically Dallas would sacrifice $5.1 million in free agency for an $8.9 million windfall in June.

I’m not sure how that makes sense for this team given their current cap situation. I currently project Dallas to be about $8 million over a $166 million salary cap in 2017 after factoring in carryover money and futures signings. Dallas is also likely one of the teams that still owes a full $4.5 million to the cap next season which will make the cap room even tighter if I am correct about that.

Sure they can cut some players like Doug Free to create some cap space, but they also have to worry about the fact that their starting corners, safety, defensive tackle, and wide receiver all need to be replaced. They will also need a backup QB, though that should be cheap.

Dallas has plenty of places to go for cap relief- Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Dez Bryant, and Tyrone Crawford- but why continue to get into cap trouble when you have $5.1 million in relief staring you in the face?  Some of these guys will end up restructured regardless, but you need to avoid redoing deals with a seemingly always injured Bryant or doing a funny money extension for a 35 year old Jason Witten.

Rather than beginning to fix potential future cap problems Dallas will just be creating more many years down the line by continuing to make what are good contracts when signed into problems. Not only that but odds are you won’t even touch most of the savings since they come in so late, which effectively makes the impact of the June 1 the same as if you just cut him outright, except you restructured contracts you didn’t need to in order to make up for the $5.1M loss from March to June due to Romo. If you are running a team you should want to restructure the minimum amount of contracts each year.  Cutting Romo rather than June 1st him gives them that opportunity and forces them to be fiscally responsible.

The Backup QB Scenario

While I think it is very rare for a player like Romo to willingly accept a backup role, perhaps his love of Dallas or belief that his game is no longer great will make him willing to accept this position. This would probably be the ideal situation for Dallas because they would not have to release Romo and deal with the salary cap headache involved with it and his willingness to be a backup would give them the room needed to ask him for a pay cut.

Romo currently stands to make $14 million in 2017, which is double what Chase Daniel, the highest paid true backup in the NFL, earns. Obviously the $14 million would make little sense to pay for a player you don’t expect to see the field so Dallas can bring this number down. Romo played 2016 for $8.5 million so negotiating for the same salary in 2016 would make sense.  He would immediately be the highest paid backup and Dallas would save $6.5 million on their cap next season. To balance the figures out Dallas would likely include $6.5M in NLTBE incentives for playtime and performance. That would essentially make Romo “whole” in the event he reclaimed the starting job. Here is how this would compare on the cap compared to cutting him

YearBackup ContractCut/TradeDifference
2017$19,200,000$19,600,000-$400,000
2018$8,900,000$0$8,900,000
Total$28,100,000$19,600,000$8,500,000

For Dallas this would effectively work the same as a June 1 cut on the cap except they would get their savings in March. The fact that Dallas would avoid the need to sign a backup QB would actually make the cap savings a bit better than what is shown here and likely make the true investment in Romo about $7.5M in cash for the year.

The Retirement Scenario

Assuming Romo wants to retire rather than be a backup or play with another team, Dallas would get the opportunity to have their cake and eat it too in this case. Just because Romo indicates that he wants to retire it does not mean that he has to officially retire until Dallas benefits from it. In this case Dallas would renegotiate Romo’s contract to pay him the minimum salary for 2017 and then place him on the retirement list sometime in June.

Here is what the contract would look like on the cap prior to the summer

YearReworked DealCut/TradeDifference
2017$11,700,000$19,600,000-$7,900,000
2018$0$0$0
Total$11,700,000$19,600,000-$7,900,000

And here is what would happen in the summer.

YearReworked DealCut/TradeDifference
2017$10,700,000$19,600,000-$8,900,000
2018$8,900,000$0$8,900,000
Total$19,600,000$19,600,000$0

That would allow Dallas to lessen Romo’s cap hit in March almost to the same level it would be in June following the June 1 date. They would gain significant salary cap relief immediately if he retired and then an added million in the summer.

Trading Romo

A trade of Romo works the same as a cut with the cap ramifications being based on the date of the trade. Odds are any trade of Romo would occur in March. Trading Romo makes more sense than cutting him and Romo should be able to bring back a good package of draft picks.

Though Romo’s play has trended downward and he is consistently injured, the league is so devoid of talent at the position that teams would take a chance. Since Romo’s salary would be just $14 million it would be a desirable contract to trade for especially when you consider Ryan Fitzpatrick is earning $12 million from the Jets this year.

Even though teams would know that Dallas wants to move Romo I think the Cowboys could still have enough leverage to get a second round pick that would likely have 2018 draft conditions attached to it based on Romos playing time and/or performance. Though a draft pick would cost a bit more on the cap and certainly in cash than any old replacement level player, it would be worth the added cost to improve.

This scenario works identical to a regular release on the cap, but with one negative unless they process a trade immediately at the start of free agency they will need to account for his $24.7M cap number until a trade is finalized.

The “Wink-Wink” Deal to Release

This would basically be a situation where the two sides agree to part ways before 2016 ends but not process the release until March. In this scenario Romo agrees to redo his 2017 contract year to pay the minimum salary with the understanding that he will be designated a June 1 cut on the first day of free agency.  This would allow Dallas to get the same benefit as the retirement scenario while also releasing Romo.

The reason this would need to be agreed to this year is that the NFL doesn’t allow the June 1 designation to be used on players who sign contracts after the end of the regular season, basically to avoid scenarios like this one. So Romo would need to put a great deal of faith in the Cowboys to release him. While there may be ways to contractually trigger his release in the event Dallas did not honor the agreement Im not certain about that.  This contract works just like the retirement scenario:

YearReworked DealCut/TradeDifference
2017$11,700,000$19,600,000-$7,900,000
2018$0$0$0
Total$11,700,000$19,600,000-$7,900,000

Post June 1st numbers.

YearReworked DealCut/TradeDifference
2017$10,700,000$19,600,000-$8,900,000
2018$8,900,000$0$8,900,000
Total$19,600,000$19,600,000$0

Could Dallas trade Romo this season?  Yes they can. Because we are post June 1 there is no acceleration in 2016 associated with the contract so Dallas would have the cap room to process the trade. Trading Romo now would allow the Cowboys to save about $5 million on the cap this year to help offset the $19.6 million charge that would be on the books next season.

This move would make a lot of sense financially for Dallas, but from a feasibility standpoint Im not sure it works. Romo’s maximum value would likely occur in the offseason when all teams are open for business. Bad teams are not going to make the move now and it’s a bad team that presents the best opportunity for Dallas. The 1-5 Jets are not trading anything of value for Romo right now but next March they might be open to doing it. Unless a big injury occurs similar to the Teddy Bridgewater one in the next few days before the trading deadline that market wont be as great as it will be next year.

Secondly Dallas is in the middle of a playoff hunt and if Prescott was injured who would you rather turn to- Tony Romo or Mark Sanchez?  Similar to how Drew Bledsoe had to pitch in all those years ago for Tom Brady it might be in the Cowboys best interest to have Romo backing up this season, especially if there is not a great trade on the table.

So I think that covers the Cowboys options with Romo.  If it were me I’d do everything I could to have a trade in place by the first day of free agency  since I don’t think Romo will retire, but if not I don’t think Id drag my feet and get stuck with his cap charges for too long. How about you?  What would you do with Romo next season?

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc