Quarterback problems. They're like everyday relationships.They take on different flavors and magnitudes, but pretty much every NFL city has them.
Some are theoretically good problems to have: New England's restructuring Tom Brady's contract to open up more salary cap space, Green Bay's commencing the calculations on what it's going to take to keep Aaron Rodgers locked down for the next six years. Are these really problems? I mean, they're issues to work through, but at the end of the day...well, Brady and Rodgers are your quarterbacks. That's nice.
Some quarterback problems are just that -- problems in the very painful, literal (and many times, self-inflicted) sense: Mark Sanchez's oppressive burden of a contract extension, Carson Palmer's addiction to turnovers, anything involving Blaine Gabbert. These are problems.
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But at least those teams, those with great quarterbacks and those with wretched quarterbacks, have one thing that about half the teams in the league don't -- clarity.
Which brings us to the Texans and the Cowboys.
Like about a dozen other teams in the NFL, the Texans and Cowboys meander through their NFL existence unsure of exactly what they have at quarterback. Or more on point, they quietly smile and outwardly convey that they have the quarterback to take them to the promised land, but inside they realize that they may be in some varying stages of denial.
Their quarterbacks are too good to discard, and not good enough (at least yet, but maybe ever) to win the big game. The perceived "safe play" among NFL owners and GMs is to keep your "Grade B" guy at quarterback and hope he catches "Grade A" level fire in the playoffs or hope that everyone else around him (and I mean, everyone) plays at a "Grade A" level.
And in perceived safety, the Texans and the Cowboys do what winds up ultimately being the most dangerous thing you can do -- paying a slightly better than average quarterback a cap-swallowing contract figure.
They're obviously not alone. The Jets are stuck with Sanchez for another year because of the "dead" money it would cost on their cap to cut him (at least they know he sucks, though), the Cardinals and Bills just got out of cap-crippling relationships with mediocre quarterbacks, and the Raiders are trying to figure out what to do with Palmer. Short of striking gold with a rookie (like a slew of playoff teams this past year) and their commensurate controlled wage for four years, the self-delusion continues for teams, and if Kolb's rebound contract with the Bills this weekend (a modest two-year, $13 million deal) and the Raiders' feverishly trying to trade for Matt Flynn -- Matt Flynn! -- are any indicator, quarterback help is not on its way with this year's draft.
So in a market short on solutions and with a "hey, he still might be the guy" quarterback in the fold, the Cowboys last week took the opportunity to do what the Texans did just before the start of last season -- they paid their current quarterback near-Super Bowl-type money for a résumé devoid of big-game chops (courtesy of Adam Schefter of ESPN.com)
To clear salary-cap space and lock up their franchise quarterback, the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo reached an agreement on a blockbuster six-year extension worth $108 million, making him the highest paid player in franchise history.
Keep in mind that, like nearly every big money contract in the NFL, Romo's deal sounds like more than it actually is guaranteed to be:
In the first year of the extension, Romo will make $26.5 million, and after two years, he will make $40 million. Romo's money over the first three years -- with the likelihood that Dallas keeps him the next three seasons -- will be $57 million.
All told, Romo now has a seven-year deal worth $119.5 million, of which $11.5 million was included as part of a $25 million signing bonus spread over the course of the deal. The $11.5 million is what Romo was set to make in 2013 before the extension.
Franchise quarterback money, but is Romo a franchise quarterback?
Since taking over the reins as the Cowboys' starting quarterback full time midway through the 2006 season, Romo has posted a 55-38 record as a starting quarterback, gone to three Pro Bowls, and consistently posted a passer rating between 90 and 98 nearly every season (2011 being the only outlier, and to the good, with a rating of 102.5). Subjectively, I'd put him in the upper tier of quarterbacks in terms of extending plays by moving his feet and sliding around and out of the pocket.
That's the good. Here's the bad:
-- The last three years, he's compiled a record of 17-21, including consecutive 8-8 seasons the last two years, out of the playoffs.
-- He led all quarterbacks in the NFL in interceptions in 2012 with 19.
-- People forget this because he didn't take the reins until 2006, but Romo is 32 years old. He turns 33 this month. If ever there were a case of describing a quarterback getting a massive contract extension by sheepishly saying, "This is who he is," it's Tony Romo.
-- And finally, the money shot for every Romo critic and Cowboy fan praying for the dawning of a new day in Big D, Romo's playoff history: 1-3 record, 80.8 passer rating, 59.3 completion percentage, and a handful of soul-crushing plays directly leading to the losses.
So I'll ask the question again, is Romo a franchise quarterback? Well, the only answer that matters is the one emanating from the mouth of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. After all, he cuts the checks and he says yes:
"In today's game, every NFL franchise understands the importance of production and continuity at the quarterback position, and, historically, few franchises have enjoyed those benefits more than the Dallas Cowboys," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement. "We are very confident in this investment and commitment."
One thing Jones doesn't mention in his plaudits for Romo is that this deal constitutes a restructuring of Romo's 2013 money, with most of his salary for the upcoming season being converted to a portion of a monstrous $25 million signing bonus that can be spread out over the next five years, so the Cowboys open up roughly $5 million of much-needed space under the salary cap. But that's the short term. Long term, what exactly have the Cowboys signed up for here? Well, Romo's base salary/cap figure over the life of the deal looks like this (* denotes guaranteed seasons):
* 2013: $1,500,000 / $11,818,833 * 2014: $13,500,000 / $21,773,000 2015: $17,000,000 / $25,273,000 2016: $8,500,000 / $15,135,000 2017: $14,000,000 / $19,000,000 2018: $19,500,000 / $19,500,000 2019: $20,500,000 / $20,500,000
Yikes! Cap friendly in 2013, yes, but holy hell, 2014 and 2015 are killers at over $21 million and $25 million in cap space for a guy who's still a zero when it comes to winning at the highest level.
And just how tied to Romo (and this deal) are the Cowboys? Well, consider the "dead money" that would immediately hit the Cowboys cap in each of these seasons if they release Romo:
2013: $53,499,833 2014: $41,681,000 2015: $19,908,000 2016: $11,635,000 2017: $5,000,000
So Romo is virtually uncuttable before 2016, and even punting on him as the solution to the Super Bowl puzzle in Dallas in 2016 (when he is turning 36, so not out of the question) would result in a cap hit of over $11 million.
Compare this to the extension that the Texans gave Schaub before the 2012 season (because ultimately, in Houston, one of the only ways to feel good about the Texans' quarterback situation right now is to say, "Well, at least we're not Dallas!"), in the order of base salary/cap hit/"dead money if released" (* denotes guaranteed years):
* 2013: $7,250,000 / 10,750,000 / $21,250,000 2014: $10,000,000 / 14,500,000 / $10,500,000 2015: $12,500,000 / 17,000,000 / $7,000,000 2016: $14,500,000 / 19,000,000 / $3,500,000
Obviously, both teams hope that these deals work out and their quarterback takes them to the promised land, and whichever team is able to do that, practically by definition when it comes to the quarterback position, got the better deal with their guy.
But looking at worst-case scenarios, which team is potentially more saddled with a guy they flat out overpaid? Well, considering the following:
1. Their cap hits in Year 1 (2013) are about the same, and...
2. In Years 2 and 3 of the deals (2014 and 2015), Schaub counts about $7 million and $8 million less respectively in those seasons than Romo against the cap, and...
3. The Texans can eject on the Schaub Experience after this coming season for a whopping $30 million less in "dead money" against the cap than Dallas, and less than it will cost the Cowboys to eject on Romo in 2016, let alone 2014...
Well -- let's say it together, Texan fans -- "WELL, AT LEAST WE'RE NOT DALLAS!"
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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