Mac Engel

Seattle slide is the beginning of the end of Tony Romo

Now we know, and maybe so does the owner, the idea that Tony Romo was going to make it “four to five more years” was both laughable and offensive.

He didn’t make it four quarters. He barely made it four minutes. Romo made it 16 preseason snaps before his own back snapped.

The “four to five years” timeline was the original opinion of Jerry Jones in December of last year, and it apparently was not the result of a visit to any weed shop like a certain new Dallas Cowboys’ running back.

Watching Romo stay on the field after an awkward hit Thursday night in Seattle we know that timeline, however overly optimistic it was, is garbage. This is the beginning of the end of Tony Romo’s playing career.

He is the Cowboys’ Prince Fielder — a great player whose body no longer can do what the mind and heart desire.

Romo is one of the most special stories among all NFL quarterbacks, but his finale is beginning to look sadly ordinary — just a guy who has to quit because of injury.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Saturday afternoon that Romo has a broken bone in his back and will be out an undetermined length of time. Cowboys sources are predicting anywhere from six to 10 weeks.

Coach Process would not say if rookie quarterback Dakota Prescott is the starter; he would not say if Romo will miss the season opener. He did say Romo will return this season, and this latest break is not related to his previous back injuries.

Translation: Dak is the starter. Romo will return but not any time soon. All back injuries are related.

The 2016 season is now entirely about the development of Prescott, and the two-pronged prayer he will be good enough to keep the Cowboys from football implosion until Romo returns.

That same plan failed miserably when Romo was out last year with a broken clavicle. The plan was such a disaster it forced Jerry Jones to adjust his optimism around the return of injured players.

I asked Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne if it helps, at all, that this team went through an extended Romo absence last season.

“I don’t think it’s something you can prepare for — it’s bad news either way you go,” Claiborne said. “I don’t want to say extra pressure is on [the defense], but it is.”

Give Claiborne an A for honesty.

“Surprising is a good word,” center Travis Frederick said of his reaction to learning the news. “I don’t think morale will be an issue at all. We’ve got guys we can lean on.”

Who are we kidding? The Cowboys have had seven rookie quarterbacks start and only one has had a winning record — Roger Staubach was 1-0 in 1969. The winningest Cowboys rookie QB was Quincy Carter, who went 3-5 in 2001.

A generous estimate for Romo’s return is Oct. 30, the week after the bye, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Can you imagine the controversy if Dak is playing well?

As another footnote — this news all but ensures Jason Garrett will return next season as the head coach. An injury to a Pro Bowl quarterback buys the head coach an additional season.

Romo is not a dummy, and he fully realizes he is much closer to the end than the beginning. This latest back injury only accelerates the timeline.

It’s amazing Romo has lasted as long as he has. This is a man who has sustained a punctured lung, broken ribs, ankle rolls, three broken clavicles and now a third back injury playing for the Cowboys. You can probably throw in a concussion or two or 10.

You have to think retirement is going to be a possibility after the season. He has a life to live after football with a wife and young children.

While nobody can question Romo’s commitment, everybody should ridicule the Cowboys for committing to him when his age and injury suggested this development was inevitable. Guys over 30 who have been injured get injured again.

Despite concerns about his body, the Cowboys still handed him a six-year, $108 million deal in 2013 that included a $25 million signing bonus. If the Cowboys wanted to cut him after the season, the salary cap hit would be $19.6 million.

No matter how good the Cowboys’ offensive line is, NFL quarterbacks tend to absorb a few hits during a game. The only guys who avoided contact are Tom Brady and the recently retired Peyton Manning, and even they lost a whole season to injury.

Part of Romo’s game was his willingness to get dirty and take a hit. Romo can’t take a hit any more. If you take that away from Romo you take away a facet of what made him special.

All of this preseason rhetoric from Romo and the Cowboys about his superior conditioning is worthless. This is a 36-year-old NFL quarterback whose body is likely well into its 40s. Maybe older.

It’s not his fault. Hit happens in the NFL.

And Romo’s body has taken too many hits in the wrong places.

By now we should fully expect Romo to come back and try one more time to be the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and win the games that have eluded him thus far.

By equal measure, we should fully expect that his body will not allow him to complete that endeavor.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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