Why Tony Romo Isn't Worth The Money
Stop me if you've heard this one before - a middle of the pack QB gets a monster deal, defying all logic and putting a serious damper on his team's ability to recruit talent around him. Joe Flacco? Well, yes, but this time it's about Tony Romo, the latest entry in the ongoing conspiracy to get Aaron Rodgers a $1B/year contract.
One can easily get confused when looking misleading counting statistics like yards and TDs, so instead we're going to advanced analytics to look at Romo and his contract. With a PNEP (passing net efficiency/play) of 0.19, Tony ranked #11 in the NFL, putting him alongside the now-departed Alex Smith and the inconsistent Eli Manning. This is down from his 2011 campaign (#5, 0.24) and his 2010 campaign (#4, 0.25), despite having an easier schedule in terms of opponent strength in both of those seasons.
Unlike Flacco, who has never been in the top 10 most efficient QBs in the league, Romo bounces around the 5-10 range, never quite establishing himself in the Brady/Rodgers strata. So why does his contract pay him in that league?
Looking at his most comparable players, we start with two 2001 editions: Jeff Garcia and Rich Gannon. They're apt comparisons, in that both were good without being great. Garcia never hit the peaks that he hit in the 2001 season ever again, and for Gannon, his following year was his peak but after that year, he was below replacement-level and far, far away from being an elite QB. Going further down his list of comparables, they're either good QBs nearing or past the end of their peak efficiency (Ben Roethlisberger 2011, Philip Rivers 2011) or QBs that simply don't belong when discussing the highest paid QBs in the league (Carson Palmer, 2006).
So, to conclude so far, his metrics don't support the contract, nor does the future growth curve of his closest comparables. So where does it come from?
The Cowboys are banking on the fact that even though Romo regression from this top-5 form of 2010 and 2011, he can get back to it with a little more luck. (His comparables disagree.) They're also banking on the fact that a true franchise QB is hard to come across, and age 32, Tony has a decent shot at giving the Cowboys three or four years of solidly above-average play, particularly if Dez Bryant can continue to emerge and DeMarco Murray can stay healthy.
Whether that will be enough to placate the Cowboys fans is a different discussion altogether, but let's not pretend that there's a better option holding a clipboard on the sideline or in the draft. Given the outrageousness of Flacco's contract and given the paucity of options, Romo was in a place of great leverage, making him yet another non-elite QB making elite money in the NFL.