Maybe it's fitting that Tony Romo’s rags-to-riches-to-rags-again NFL career ends like this — with an unpredictable scramble.
Hey, no knock on Romo, one of the most accomplished undrafted free agents in NFL history, for chasing the lure of more mega-dollars flowing from the TV booth. And after spending most of the last two seasons wrapped in physical rehab, who could blame him for deciding to hang it up after 14 pro seasons?
Just don’t say that he’s fully going out on his own terms. In the end, his body told him it was time.
Knowing the type of competitor that Romo is, I doubt that this is how he really wanted to retire — with his last pass (albeit a 3-yard TD strike to Terrance Williams that capped an 81-yard drive) coming in a cameo relief appearance in a meaningless Week 17 game.
I’m guessing that Romo, who turns 37 on April 21, was itching to leave the NFL in a blaze of glory as a champion, which is why the expectation that he’d wind up with the Houston Texans or the Denver Broncos made so much sense. It worked for former Cowboys teammate DeMarcus Ware, who left Dallas and helped the Broncos win a Super Bowl in 2015.
Watching Romo carve up the Philadelphia Eagles defense in his final appearance proved there was something left, a point that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones, the team owner who desperately tried to get something in return on the trade market, emphatically declared. That’s why it’s a bit stunning to think that Romo, who will replace Phil Simms as CBS' lead NFL analyst wouldn’t give the game one more shot first.
Yet Romo's apparent dilemma over his future during the past few weeks — last week, Jones told me he was really waiting for the cue from his longtime quarterback about how to proceed — had the feel of another play that broke down and left him trying to make the best of it.
But remember how often during his heyday that Romo produced big plays while operating off-script? Sure, there was an element of danger that sometimes resulted in ugly turnovers. However more often than not, he would spin, scan, pump, dash, point and throw from any number of body positions.
That was the beauty of Romo ... when it worked.
Now, with his future at stake, he evidently danced through the options as the speculation swirled. Surely, regardless of how it looked on the outside, this decision was likely reached with all matter of proper deliberation. Denver? Houston? Fox? CBS?
Romo’s final decision played out like another scramble, ending with the unexpected completion to CBS.
Then again, once you start to consider retirement, the decision is really already made (unless you’re Brett Favre). Romo knows what’s best for Romo better than any of us. He’s been battered, with two back surgeries and a twice-fractured clavicle, among his litany of injuries. He hasn’t played a complete season since 2012. As much as there is to respect and admire about a guy who came out of Eastern Illinois to make it big in the NFL, there’s also the distinct chance that he could have joined a contender and then lasted all of one series.
The next ferocious hit that he took always loomed as potentially his last. And quality of life for the long haul matters, especially for a man with two young children and a third on the way.
That’s not to label Romo as fragile — he’s proven quite tough while lasting as long as he did — but to recognize the obvious risk. The last injury, a fracture of the transverse process in his back, occurred in a preseason game last August amid what looked like a relatively innocuous hit from the Seattle Seahawks' Cliff Avril — a routine NFL fender bender.
But it wound up finishing Romo and opening the door for the lucky Cowboys to discover just what they had with fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott.
Romo leaves as the Cowboys’ all-time leading passer. But unlike predecessors Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, he never won the big one. Part of Romo’s legacy is that for all of his production, he was a polarizing figure who seemed to attract a legion of detractors that countered his supporters.
The cruel irony is that Dallas built its offense for Romo, complete with star running back Ezekiel Elliott working behind that buff offensive line. But fate dictated that Romo wouldn’t cash in.
Instead, he’d be forced to scramble.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell
© 2017 WXIA-TV