The Cowboys’ Quarterback Dilemma: Dak or Romo?

Dak Prescott has surpassed all expectations with his performance so far.  Through six weeks, the Cowboys rookie quarterback ranks fourth in the NFL in completion percentage, fifth in QB rating, and boasts an impressive 7-1 TD-INT ratio. He broke Tom Brady’s record for most pass attempts without an interception to begin a career, and he’s led Dallas to a 5-1, NFC East-leading start.  The only person holding him back from Rookie of the Year honors is his own teammate, running back Ezekiel Elliott.  However, Prescott might not even be starting his team’s next game.

The Cowboys are on bye during week 7 and by the time they suit up against the Eagles on October 30, Tony Romo might be ready to play.  Romo, a four-time Pro Bowler who has started for the Cowboys when healthy since replacing Drew Bledsoe in the middle of the 2006 season, was slated to be the team’s starting quarterback before suffering a fractured vertebra during week 3 of the preseason.

This puts the Cowboys in a peculiar situation, one reminiscent of the decision facing the New England Patriots in 2001 when they decided to stick with Tom Brady after their opening-day starter (funny enough, also Drew Bledsoe) returned from injury.  Now, despite his great start, Prescott is far from guaranteed to become a Brady-caliber player (although then again, neither was Brady himself).  So do the Cowboys stick with the formula that has achieved them in the first part of this season or do they hand the keys back to the longtime face of their franchise?

In a traditional situation where the backup to a quarterback of Romo’s caliber performs well, the team typically will remain with the original starter upon his return and use the successful backup as trade bait.  The idea of sticking with Romo is consistent with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ original assessment of the situation.  For the first few weeks of the season, Jones maintained that the team still belonged to Romo, who would immediately be inserted back into the lineup when he was ready.  However, recently Jones has been far vaguer in his comments, refusing to confirm Romo’s position as the team’s starter, and instead insisting that the team is focusing on only picking up wins in his absence.

The majority of Cowboys fans seem to be angered by this, agreeing with media members who argue that Prescott should be given permanent starting duties for the team.  I agree with this sentiment.  There are a number of reasons making this no ordinary situation, and one necessitating the permanent switch.

First of all, Dak Prescott is far from your average backup quarterback.  He isn’t a veteran journeyman who clearly doesn’t have the potential to be a great quarterback.  Prescott is a rookie drafted with the intention to develop behind Romo and potentially start following Romo’s decline or retirement.  We aren’t sure how good Prescott could end up being, but there’s no experience better than NFL game experience.

It’s also worth mentioning that Prescott wasn’t at the helm for just a game or two.  He thoroughly impressed through six games and only seems to be finding his stride more and more, leading the Cowboys to back-to-back 14-point wins against the Bengals and Packers, games the Cowboys entered as underdogs.  While he’s certainly been helped by one of the greatest offensive lines and running backs in the game, Prescott has produced a large enough sample size that his talent is clear.

Tony Romo isn’t getting any younger, either.  While he’s been an underrated, top-10 quarterback for the majority of his career, at age 36, Romo will soon begin to show signs of aging.  Romo has never been the most durable quarterback either, missing 10 games in 2010 and 12 games last season.  It remains unknown how Romo will play following his latest serious injury, and if he can remain healthy for the rest of the season.

As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  At 5-1, the Cowboys are joint owners of the NFL’s second-best record and have won five straight following a season-opening one-point loss to the Giants.  Their rookie 1-2 punch is the envy of most of the league right now, and there isn’t anything to suggest it’s been a fluke.  Tony Romo starting would mean making changes to the offense in the middle of the season, and adjusting the team’s gameplan to fit Romo’s style of play.

If Tony Romo were to retake the starting quarterback position, there is no guarantee the team would perform any better, and honestly, it would be pretty hard for them to be better.  Romo should continue to serve as a mentor to Prescott, who despite the maturity he’s displayed on and off the field this season, is still just a rookie.  I have little doubt that this is the decision Jerry Jones will reach.  Jones is a master of attracting attention, and his public indecision has only cast more spotlight on “America’s Team.”  The Cowboys are real contenders this season, and only time will tell how far Prescott will take them.

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