Denver or Houston O-line better-suited to keep Tony Romo upright?
Quarterback Tony Romo is expected to be released by the Dallas Cowboys today and be free to hit the open market. In all likelihood, Romo will be searching for one last run at a Lombardi Trophy before he calls it a career.
Romo will be 37 by the time the new season rolls around, which is old by NFL standards, but we are playing in an era in which Tom Brady just put together arguably the best season of his career at age 39. Peyton Manning was 38 when he had one of the best years of his career, and Brett Favre was 40.
What Romo has that the others (with the possible exception of Favre) weren’t afflicted by, though, is an extensive injury history that has completely derailed his career at times. Manning had one major injury that caused him to miss the 2011 season entirely, and it looked like it might prematurely end his career at one point. Brady has had one major knee injury back in 2008, and while Brett Favre’s injury record would read a lot more like Romo’s, somehow Favre was always able to just tape it up and get out there anyway.
Romo has played 100 percent of his team’s snaps just once in his career, back in 2009. He has played in all 16 games on four occasions—the last of which was 2012—and in 15 games twice more. But over the past two years, he has just four starts and 244 snaps to his name.
That Romo can still play at an extremely high level is something of an act of faith right now, but given how other QBs we have mentioned have excelled at a similar age, it isn’t an unreasonable theory. The issue is whether or not can he stay healthy for long enough to prove it.
The Dallas Cowboys have had the game’s best offensive line over the past two seasons, and it has still been enough to break Romo in consecutive seasons.
The two teams leading the charge for Romo look to be the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans, so how does either team stack up in terms of keeping Romo upright?
In 2016, the Broncos had major problems at the tackle spots, especially at right tackle, and look set to allow Russell Okung—the starting left tackle—to hit free agency. Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo combined to surrender 71 total QB pressures at the right tackle spot alone, being responsible for 10 sacks and 12 QB hits between them.
In Romo terms, that is 22 opportunities for the quarterback to land on injured reserve coming from the right tackle spot alone over a season. Matt Paradis had an excellent breakout season at center, finishing with an overall grade of 90.7, but outside of him, the line is a huge problem with free agency and the draft to come. Add to the fact that the team passes significantly more than Dallas has, thanks in large part to not having the same caliber of run game, and Tony Romo’s health would be in significantly more peril in Denver than it was in Dallas.
The Texans actually have a couple of good players on their line. LT Duane Brown (86.3) and C Greg Mancz (84.2) are quality starters who surrendered just two sacks between them in 2016, but the team’s problem is at guard and right tackle, where Chris Clark, in particular, was a disaster, surrendering a league-leading 67 total QB pressures. Clark allowed eight more QB pressures than Giants LT Ereck Flowers and nine more than Vikigns LT T.J. Clemmings, and was the reason his QB hit the dirt on 15 occasions, or 68 percent of the total that the entire Dallas line allowed in 2015.
With the draft and free agency still to come, the Texans can patch some holes, but if they don’t fix their right tackle problem, Clark alone is capable of making life very uncomfortable for Romo, and risking his fragile health.
Both teams will put Romo at dramatically more risk than the Dallas offensive line would, but the Texans likely have an easier task of shoring up the unit in preparation for Romo if they can secure his signature. They already have a quality left tackle and center, and this is a good free-agent period for guard help. Their big task needs to be fixing their right tackle situation, or signing Romo will likely be a very short-term solution.