The running joke around the Dallas Cowboys is that while everyone else is getting older, quarterback Tony Romo is getting younger.
That’s because he became a starter later than most and has less wear and tear than a typical 36-year-old quarterback.
At least that’s owner Jerry Jones’ rationale when he talks about Romo being able to play another four or five years.
Or is it because as Romo has gotten older there has become a greater appreciation for his game and what he means to the Cowboys, so much so that Jones refuses to truly fathom life without him?
The truth is certainly somewhere in between, but there is no discounting the Cowboys have been their best when Romo is on the field.
Jones knows it. The world knows it now; though Romo has always understood it.
“I don’t sit around and analyze how I am viewed,” Romo said after Wednesday’s organized team activities. “I know that when I can play football it helps our football team.”
The biggest difference between the Cowboys’ 12-4 record in 2014 and 4-12 in 2015 was the absence of Romo, who missed 12 games after twice fracturing his left collarbone.
The Cowboys were 3-1 with Romo in the lineup and 1-11 without him.
The drafting of running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick brings excitement and the return to health of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant puts the X-factor back on the field.
But the return of Romo as the centerpiece of the team has been the best news of the off-season and biggest reason they are considered contenders again.
Roughly two months after undergoing the Mumford procedure in hopes of preventing further injury to his left clavicle, Romo is a full participant in the off-season program and a welcomed sight at OTA practices.
“Certainly he is a big part of what we do,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “He is a big factor in what we do. Him being out there is great not only for our team, but his leadership role he has for the younger quarterbacks, for any of the guys that he’s been around. It’s an example of how we do things, especially our offensive system.”
It’s not just Romo’s ability on the field, but also his leadership that strikes a chord with the Cowboys. He is their Pied Piper.
“That means a lot. It just builds the chemistry,” Bryant said. “It’s not even on the field. Just off the field in his body demeanor, his actions, his interactions with everybody. It’s been great. Everybody can see the spirit. It’s high. We love it. When you see your main guy like that, it makes you just want to be that much better.”
What Romo is doing on the field matters just because of the injury concerns of not only last year but the past few years.
For the record, the shoulder is not a problem.
He is ahead of schedule and doing more than he thought he would do at this point.
If truth be told, Romo is doing more than he’s done in the off-season since 2012. He did nothing before the 2013 and 2014 off-seasons because he was recovering from back surgeries.
And although he was injury-free last off-season, the Cowboys were careful with him out of respect to the back surgery from the previous off-season.
Romo says he is doing things now that he hasn’t done in several seasons — hence the notion of him getting younger and feeling better than he has in a long time.
Now two years moved from surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, Romo said he can do things for longer periods of time, take fewer breaks in between and have a bigger workload.
“I do think that based on what my situation has been like the last three or four years, this is drastically different,” Romo said. “It started to show signs last off-season and this one is different, it takes me back five years ago when I was able to do things that way. I’m not there yet. If everything keeps going the way it’s going, I think it’s going to be exciting going into camp.”
How good is Romo feeling and how excited is he about not only this season but the future?
He agrees with Jones about him being young in NFL years and being able to play another four or five years.
Of course, Romo’s timeline changes depending on when you ask. He went from four-to-five to seven-to-eight back to five-to-six in a span of 5 minutes Wednesday.
“With the way that it’s going right now, the running joke is that I’m the only one in here getting younger each year, so we’ll see if that continues,” he said.
Younger and stronger.
That’s no joke to the Cowboys.
With Elliott in the lineup and Bryant back to health, Romo’s reverse Benjamin Button is their source of hope and optimism for a bounce-back season and a chance to become Super Bowl contenders this season.