Back in early 2012, the Indianapolis Colts were coming off of a 2-14 season that saw them "earn" the right to pick first in the 2012 NFL Draft, so it just so happened that the team who employed Peyton Manning for the previous 14 seasons was going to get the chance to draft the "next Peyton Manning" — Stanford's Andrew Luck.
So the Colts released Manning, whose neck injury in 2011 was the reason Indianapolis had bottomed out so badly, making him available to whichever suitor he chose as his next place of employment. It was generally assumed that Manning would only sign on with a ready-made Super Bowl contender, and with the Texans coming off of a 10-6 season that saw them nearly win two playoff games with T.J. Yates, they seemed to fit the bill. Texans incumbent QB Matt Schaub was returning from his season-ending foot injury, but still, there were rumblings that Manning might want to come to Houston.
Well, we all know how that story ended — for the Texans, it ended under a pile of pick-sixes in 2013 and a 2-14 record of their own, and for Manning, it ended with his taking Denver to two Super Bowl appearances and a Lombardi Trophy in his final game. Ugh.
Over time, it has become more and more evident, through numerous accounts, that the Texans had a real chance at signing Manning in 2012, that the future Hall of Famer wanted to come here. Imagine that for just one second — your division arch-nemesis releases the very QB who's made your life a living hell since your franchise was invented, and you decided to stick with Matt Schaub, only to watch that aforementioned QB win an MVP and a Super Bowl over the next four seasons. Double ugh.
Fast-forward five years, and it would appear that the Dallas Cowboys are on the cusp of making a similar decision with Tony Romo that the Colts made with Manning in 2012, albeit under slightly different circumstances:
Source says Tony Romo expecting release, not trade, and believes he can start as #NFL QB 2-3 more seasons despite turning 37, injury history— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 16, 2017
I'm not here to tell you that Romo is going to compete for the league MVP, but I am here to tell you that, if he remains relatively healthy (a big "if" to many of you out there, I know) and he chooses to sign with the Texans, they immediately jump up to the clear No. 2 team in the AFC behind the New England Patriots.
Courtesy of Spotrac, here are the essential numbers for the Cowboys when it comes to cutting Romo, a move that makes sense for both sides, assuming he won't take a drastically reduced and restructured deal to remain in Dallas as Dak Prescott's backup:
The #Cowboys can cut Romo in March & designate him a Post 6/1 release, but they must carry his full $24.5M figure on their cap until 6/2.— Spotrac (@spotrac) February 17, 2017
I think you can probably tell where I stand and where I'm going with all of this, but in case it's not obvious, here is my four-point plan to rebuilding the Texans depth chart at quarterback after a three-season run that has seen eight different starting quarterbacks:
1. Sign Tony Romo to a cap-friendly deal that pays him around $10 million annually, but is very 2017 cap-friendly for the Texans.
When Manning signed with the Broncos in 2012, it was essentially a year-to-year deal for around $19 million per year, true franchise QB cap-money right off the bat. That won't be happening with Romo for a couple of reasons — 1) Peyton Manning was one of the top five quarterbacks of all time, while Romo is merely very good, and 2) although Manning's injury (neck surgery) was probably more serious than Romo's (fishing around near the spinal cord and all), Romo is perceived to be far more injury-prone, having gone down with broken bones (clavicle in 2015, back bone in 2016) each of the past two seasons. I would argue that the nature of Romo's injuries is more bad luck than a distinct trend, given that they were the result of actual hits and not soft-tissue, wear-and-tear-type injuries, but it doesn't really matter — the Texans should do a deal with him regardless.
Troy with TexansCap.com does a phenomenal job of laying out how a reasonable Romo contract would work. Cosmetically, it would be a four-year, $53 million deal, with a 2017 cap hit of less than $4 million, and a 2018 hit of $13 million, after the worst of Brock Osweiler's deal is off the books. The dead money left after two seasons would be $4 million if the Texans wanted to move on after 2018. This is a great deal for both sides, as it gives Romo a fair deal for someone with his pedigree and résumé, while affording the Texans a swing at having elite QB play while still carrying the albatross of the $19 million cap hit for Brock Osweiler.
My guess is that the Texans' main competition for Romo's services, assuming they want in on the market, would come from, ironically, the Broncos. We could probably do an entire post comparing the pros and cons of each situation, but with J.J. Watt returning next season and Houston being just four hours down the road from Romo's home in Dallas — Romo's two sons will be five and three years old when the season begins — it'd be hard to think the Texans aren't the chalk.
2. Draft a rookie quarterback in the first or second round.
The talk all offseason has been how, for the first time since drafting David Carr in 2002, the Texans may be planning to use a high pick (first or second round) on a quarterback. To be very clear, signing Romo should not prevent them from doing this. In fact, signing Romo makes drafting your next starting quarterback in 2017 an even MORE enticing prospect because the rookie can learn from a high-performing, veteran quarterback for a couple of years before taking over, with no need to rush the young quarterback along. Barring a trade up — and can you imagine them signing Romo AND trading up to draft one of the top quarterbacks like Watson, Trubisky or Kizer? — the Texans will be picking 25th in the first round, which could mean someone like Texas Tech's Pat Mahomes (considered a two-year project by experts). Either way, if you're the Texans, don't change your QB draft strategy because of the Romo signing. If anything, Romo's presence should galvanize it.
3. Keep Tom Savage as Tony Romo's backup.
...if you're going to maintain that patient approach with the rookie, then your Romo insurance policy should include someone who's been in Bill O'Brien's system and in whom you have confidence executing it. That person, for 2017, should be Tom Savage, who would have finished the season the starter had he not suffered a freak concussion injury on an ill-advised quarterback sneak in Week 17. Savage is in the final year of his deal, so he may walk after 2017, but by then, at least the drafted rookie will have a season under his belt heading into 2018.
Oh, am I forgetting someone? Oh, that's right...
4. Cut Brock Osweiler on June 2, 2017.
With Romo in the fold, Savage as the backup, and a highly drafted rookie apprentice, there is no need for four quarterbacks. I was in favor of cutting Brock Osweiler BEFORE Romo became a prominent conversation piece, so with Romo in the fold, it's a no-brainer to let him go. Cutting him after June 1 means that the cap hit is exactly the same as if you kept him for 2017 and cut him after the season — $19 million in 2017 and $6 million in dead money in 2018. Again, to be VERY clear, THERE IS NO REASON TO KEEP BROCK OSWEILER AROUND ANYMORE. He is irreparable, unsalvageable and a psychological drain on the organization.
The reasons for cutting Brock under this four-point plan are as follows:
1. The first three points of my plan (call it #TheSeanPlan) address every level of the "QB depth chart" route tree, so to speak. Romo is your clear-cut starter (and a top-ten quarterback when healthy), Savage is your backup who's been in the system for three seasons, and Unnamed Drafted Rookie is the future face of the franchise. Brock literally serves no purpose on this team under this scenario.
2. The reason they need to sign Romo is that Osweiler was a complete and total failure as a starting quarterback, and while Romo is the obvious starter, the last thing O'Brien needs during training camp is questions about "how Brock is handling things." The distraction and reminder provided by the Brock-shaped cloud of failure looming over the team would be gone once you release him.
3. You can't keep four quarterbacks, so the decision comes down to Osweiler or Savage. Simply put, Osweiler is not as good as Tom Savage at playing football. Keeping Brock because "well, we are already paying him so may as well keep him" would send a horrible message to the rest of the team about accountability and, I'm guessing, might even cause a chemistry issue if the guys happen to like Tom Savage more than they do Osweiler.
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4. Nobody needs another Brock Osweiler press conference. Not one single Houstonian.
So, as you can see, my four-point plan is airtight, and even includes a four-point explanation as to why Brock Osweiler should be cut loose. (SYMMETRY!) Originally, my fear was that signing Romo would clog enough of the salary cap space to prevent the Texans from retaining A.J. Bouye, but the low 2017 cap figure for Romo makes re-signing Bouye mathematically plausible, if the team chooses to do so. Hell, they could even use the franchise tag on Bouye if they wanted to!
Don't let this be 2012 again, Texans. If Romo hits the market, you must go all in. Also, if you're against #TheSeanPlan, acknowledge the following — if Romo hits the market, signs somewhere else for a 2017 cap figure of less than, say, $5 million and plays WELL, you have officially forfeited your right to complain about Houston's lack of a franchise QB from now until it actually has one...which at this rate might be never.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.