OXNARD, Calif. — Between Tony Romo’s back and Jerry Jones’ rambling recollections, it’s no wonder the Dallas Cowboys almost drafted Elvis.That’s what Owner Jones called quarterback Johnny Manziel after the second day of the NFL draft: Elvis Football. But to have selected the Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner would have invited a circus, Jones correctly assessed. Lions and tigers and quarterbacks — oh, my! With a serendipitous opportunity, therefore, to select Manziel with the first round’s 16th pick last May, Jones declined. Never really considered it, Jerry said at the time.Yet, speaking to the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen and Michael Irvin on Sunday, Owner Jones adjusted his story. The Cowboys did, indeed, consider making Johnny Football their first-round pick. That’s what Jerry claimed Sunday, in any case. As he told the network, “I want you to know that almost as I was handing in the card, it was that close to putting that Manziel card in. It was that close.”This version of events, however, contradicts Jones’ earlier tale about calling Romo before the draft and telling him not to worry, that selecting Manziel was “really a real unlikely thing.”The Cleveland Browns made Manziel the 22nd player selected in the first round. Why Jones persists, therefore, in humoring questions about Manziel is a mystery, and poignantly unfair to his real quarterback. Part of this habit is Jerry’s fault — he can’t keep his mouth shut — but a large share of it also harks back to the continually mixed messages that Cowboys Inc. has chosen to dispense about the post-surgical Romo.Is Romo as physically fit to participate at this training camp as he says he is, or isn’t he? And was his mysterious first back surgery merely to remove a cyst, or wasn’t it? This was head coach Jason Garrett, talking about Romo just three hours before the Cowboys’ Friday practice:“Oh, yeah. Tony loves to play,” Garrett said. “Tony Romo’s greatest trait is he loves to compete, loves to play football. It’s killing him. He’s dying to play, and he’s dying to do everything he can to be back 100 percent so he can play as well as he can for us. It’s an exciting day for him. You can see it on his face.”Great news. Except when the Cowboys convened for that scheduled practice, Romo didn’t participate. Stephen Jones, the club’s executive vice-president, said that the decision was Romo’s choice.“Purely precautionary,” Stephen said.Huh? Romo took a day off, even with an off-day for the entire team scheduled for Monday?“I know we’re only out here for a walkthrough format,” Garrett later explained, “but when you’re coming off a back issue like Tony has, sometimes just being out on your feet like that can be taxing.”How stupid of me. The big question of training camp, I thought, was whether Romo, after two back surgeries, was going to be able to withstand being hit by opposing defenders. Not the misery of standing on his feet for two hours.At age 34, with a six-year, $104 million contract in his pocket and only one postseason victory on his ledger, Romo remains a dreamer. He is every fantasy football fan’s superhero, racking up yards and touchdowns in club record proportions. But at his camp-opening visit with the media, Romo didn’t sound at all like an aging quarterback, recovering from surgeries, whose career is at a crossroads.“I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I’m sure one day when I’m 45, the body will tell me I’m done playing. But I feel personally like I’ve just started to become the player that I wanted to be six, seven years ago.“I think over the course of the next four or five years, you’ll see the best version of me that I’ve had throughout my career.”Romo didn’t elaborate. The media mostly nodded. No sense waking him up from his dream.Johnny Football. Now that would have been a wake-up call.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton