Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has negotiated a countless number of business deals and player contracts throughout his career. He’s had long, drawn out battles with players such as Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant.
But his toughest negotiator? None other than former quarterback Tony Romo.
Jones recalled his most difficult “opponent” during a Hall of Fame enshrinees’ roundtable event on Sunday, and it happened to center on his talks with a relatively unknown Romo early in his career.
Romo joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and didn’t take a regular-season snap at quarterback in his first three professional seasons. But Jones and the Cowboys coach at the time, Bill Parcells, had liked enough of what they’d seen to view Romo as the quarterback of the future.
So the Cowboys wanted to extend Romo, who would become a free agent after the 2006 season. Going into the Cowboys’ last preseason game, Jones and Parcells talked with Romo about a new contract.
The Cowboys wanted to include several incentives in the deal, which would kick in should Romo see significant playing time. But Romo wouldn’t go for it.
Romo wanted guaranteed money instead of incentives because that, in his mind, would ensure the Cowboys of giving him a legitimate chance to start.
“[Romo] said, ‘You know, Mr. Jones, I think the world of you, but at some point I’ve got to play,’” Jones said. “I’ve been on the bench too long. I need to play. You’re not going to play me if you don’t pay me some serious money.
“You take those incentives and you put them in real money. I’ll handle my agents. I need to know I’m going to get on the field, time is a wasting for me.”
On the spot, Jones said, he agreed with Romo and turned the incentives into guaranteed money. Romo signed a one-year, $3 million deal for the 2006 season.
“We jumped up and shook hands,” Jones said. “Bill Parcells walked out the door and looked at me and said, ‘We’ve got us a quarterback.’ I said, ‘You’re right.’”
Yes, the Cowboys indeed found their quarterback for the next decade. Romo went on to start 10 games in 2006 and remained the starter until being replaced by Dak Prescott last season.
After the 2006 season, Romo and Jones reached a six-year, $67.5 million deal in 2007. The Cowboys handed Romo another long-term deal, six years and $108 million, before the 2013 season.
Jones said Romo played up to every contract the team had given him.
Romo walked away from the game this offseason as the franchise leader in passing yards (34,183), passing touchdowns (248), passer rating (97.1), completion percentage (65.3) and most 3,000-yard passing seasons (seven).