Gil LeBreton

Jerry Jones’ Romo solution doesn’t have to be that messy

It won’t be long before Tony Romo, right, will be healthy enough to want to take Dak Prescott’s place at quarterback.
It won’t be long before Tony Romo, right, will be healthy enough to want to take Dak Prescott’s place at quarterback. rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

I don’t know about your neighborhood, but in mine they aren’t exactly tying yellow ribbons around the trees, waiting for Tony Romo.

The Dallas Cowboys are 6-1, the NFC’s best record. They are the surprises of the NFL football season.

The owner feels young again. The head coach has a welcomed fire in his belly. The offense has been entertaining to watch.

Election Day isn’t until next week, but the Cowboys-watching electorate has already spoken. At office lunch breaks, on radio talk shows and in grocery store checkout lines, the feeling seems to be the same:

Rookie Dak Prescott needs to remain the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. By barging in, Romo would only mess things up.

Who saw this coming, say, six months ago?

As our Cowboys reporter Charean Williams reports, Thursday marked 10 weeks since Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back while trying to run with the football in Seattle. Though the Cowboys chronically predict swift recoveries for all their broken bones and wrenched muscles, Romo hasn’t been rushed back.

Doctor’s orders, or Owner Jones’?

Probably the latter, but a Sunday of reckoning is coming. It is naïve to think that Romo, the team’s starting quarterback since 2006, would willingly elect to sit out the remainder of the season.

For one thing, Romo is 36. His football clock is ticking. If the Cowboys defeat the Browns on Sunday, don’t you think he would welcome the chance to take over a 7-1 team and piggyback a ride into the NFL playoffs?

No, this is going to be Jones’ decision. But it doesn’t have to be so heartless.

My solution is simple:

In two or three weeks, whenever the coaches decide Romo is ready, the Cowboys need to continue to start Prescott. But in the second quarter, no matter the score, coach Jason Garrett needs to put in Romo.

For one full quarter. See how he plays. More importantly, see how the team plays.

And dare we say it, see if Romo can hold up to being hit.

A week later, the coaches can increase the Romo midgame workload as they see fit.

If there is no drop-off in the offense’s productivity, Garrett and Jones will have an easier choice. Romo would likely regain his starting role and play as long as he remains healthy.

It’s a fair solution. Romo wouldn’t become a disgruntled bystander. And Prescott’s brow-raising, hope-restoring rookie season wouldn’t be swept under the rug.

Howls of protest are certain to rise as soon as talk of Romo’s imminent return grows louder. It is inevitable, though, that Romo will play. This is not like Bill Parcells releasing Emmitt Smith in 2003 and Troy Aikman, with a history of concussions and back problems of his own, having to retire in 2001.

Booing Tony at Mavericks games may be cute, as are the many internet memes, but maybe some Cowboys fans have forgotten that Romo has won 16 of his last 20 regular-season games as the team’s starting quarterback.

Yes, he remains 2-4 in the playoffs. But how many NFL playoff games has Prescott won?

Romo, indeed, has been paid well by Owner Jones during his 10 seasons as the starter — more than $127 million, according to Spotrac.

But that’s all the more reason why Romo just won’t take his money and go home, even after breaking bones in three of the past five games he’s played. Barring an ominous warning from the back surgeons, players seldom just go quietly away.

At some point in this 6-1 parade, he’ll want back in, and it won’t be a popular request.

But it doesn’t have to be that messy.

Let Romo have a second quarter. Or two. Assess the damage — to the offense and to Tony.

It’s the only way that Jones can keep winning on this.

Cowboys at Browns

noon Sunday, KDFW/4

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