Drew Bledsoe’s only request was that he not talk about this until after the Cowboys made a decision.
The Cowboys have made their decision: Tony Romo is the backup.
If anyone understands how all of this feels, it would be Drew Bledsoe.
“The hardest part when you aren’t ‘the guy’ is that they take the carrot away from you at the end of the week,” Bledsoe said Monday morning in a phone interview. “You work your butt off all week in practice and prepare and then you are ready to go out and compete.”
The carrot is to play the game.
“And when that carrot is gone, it’s a difficult thing,” Bledsoe said. “To be there in a supporting role is important, especially with a younger guy to teach him, but it’s a difficult thing.”
Bledsoe has the unique distinction of having been in this situation twice — once famously with the New England Patriots and with the Cowboys, with Romo.
While this entire 2016 Cowboys season is only slightly less of a surprise than the 2016 presidential election, to confirm that Tony Romo is a backup to a rookie fourth-round draft pick who entered training camp as the No. 3 is still a stunner.
These things just happen and, at least according to Bledsoe, this could be a hard transition for Romo.
In 2006, Bledsoe was the veteran starter for the Cowboys. In the team’s sixth game of the regular season, he was benched by coach Bill Parcells at halftime in favor of Romo. Parcells named Romo the permanent starter that week, and Bledsoe never threw another NFL pass.
Although he said he received numerous calls from other teams the ensuing off-season, at 34 Bledsoe was finished with football. He did not want to move his family again, and he was ready to start living.
“The one thing Tony has is that he has the experience of being a backup before,” Bledsoe said. “Since the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had been the starter.”
The only other time Bledsoe had been relegated to a backup was in 2001 when he was with the New England Patriots.
In the second game of the season, Bledsoe took a nasty shot from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis that nearly killed him.
By the time Bledsoe was available to play again, backup Tom Brady had taken his job.
Bledsoe came off the bench in relief of an injured Brady in the AFC title game and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl. But despite lobbying efforts to start, Brady was the starter for the Pats in an upset win over the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
Bledsoe was dealt to the Buffalo Bills shortly thereafter and was a starter for three years, and signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in 2005 and was a starter until Romo replaced him.
“Because I had been the starter it made it tougher for me to stand on the sideline,” Bledsoe said. “Because at least Tony has done it, it might be easier for him in some ways. It’s not an easy thing.”
When Bledsoe was demoted, he said never once did he think his teammates looked at him or treated him any differently. Everybody understands it’s a job, and a replacement business. As a guy who had been in the NFL for 14 seasons and done so much, he had the respect of his teammates.
But there is one other dramatic difference about these situations: In 2006, Bledsoe was a healthy man and was contemplating life after football. He had already put things in motion to start his wine business, which remains successful, and retiring to Oregon.
He has helped coach his sons’ football teams; his second son is expected to walk on at his dad’s alma mater, Washington State, where former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has the Cougars ranked No. 20 in the latest AP Poll.
Bledsoe was ready to leave, whereas no one can be so sure about the 36-year-old Romo.
“I have not talked to Tony at all, so I don’t know where he is on this, but I do know he has suffered some pretty serious injuries,” he said. “It’s one of those things you have to watch out for is long-term health; he has a lot of life left after football and you do have to weigh the risk of that against wanting to throw another pass.”
Bledsoe said the decision to retire had nothing to do with the fact he had pretty much done it. He had led the Patriots to a Super Bowl, won a ring, been to the Pro Bowl, made the money, etc. Romo has done everything but win in the playoffs — two playoff wins and no appearances in the NFC title game.
“That’s a dangerous proposition — to look for gratification in that regard,” he said. “I know I felt like I had given everything to the game and I had played at a high level. I felt good about that.”
Where Romo is on this continuum only he knows. It’s a fluid situation and won’t clear up until the off-season.
What we know is that he is ready, and he is the backup. Even from his home in Oregon, Bledsoe has seen enough to know the current Cowboys’ starter is legit.
“When I saw him in preseason I thought, ‘This kid has got something.’ It’s one thing to have stats, but another thing to see him make plays,” Bledsoe said. “What I look for is timing and ball placement. He’s hitting receivers coming out of their breaks, and he’s putting it in a spot where they can run with it.
“And the other component is, when Tony got hurt, is how does the team play for Dak? They’re playing for him.”
Which is why the Cowboys announced their decision: Tony Romo is the backup.
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