Friday, February 26, 2016

2/26/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN - Tony Romo Doubts

Like all other fine Friday traditions, we now stop down for just a pile of emails and ramblings that generally range in the 2,000-word range for a little something we call the Cowboys Mailbag (surely, the least original name a mailbag consisting of Cowboys topics could possibly have).

Now, before we get too far into this with your many queries, I think I am required to get onto virtual paper my biggest Cowboys revelation/theory/speculation/best guess of the month: I fear greatly for Tony Romo's health. Greatly. As in way more than when he missed Week 17 in 2013 for a back surgery or that time when he went under the knife for his mysterious cyst removal procedure. Or the 1st time he broke his collarbone. Or the 2nd. Or the 3rd.

Let's face it. Tony has been through an awful lot of punishment playing QB1 for the Dallas Cowboys. He has taken a beating and he keeps coming back for more. But, things have really changed over the last 12 months and this theory of "3, 4, or 5 more years" of elite-level Tony Romo just doesn't hold water with me anymore.

I am a huge defender of all things #9 (Romo > Eli, #QBWinz, #QBRingz), but I am starting to wonder why my fellow media colleagues seem like they would rather discuss other things than the only thing that truly matters. I am sure it is because either they are confident that this is just another brick in the injury wall or they are bound by their journalistic boundaries to not wildly speculate or yell "fire" in a crowded building unless they have proof.

But, I wildly speculate for a living. I attempt to remain measured and cautious on these topics, but this is not a breaking news story or some investigative report I am offering here. This is a guy who follows this team closely every day giving you an opinion.

Here it is: I don't think Romo's situation can be classified as a QB with "injury issues" anymore. Rather, I would suggest that Romo's collarbone situation would have to be called a "ticking time bomb." I think his future is week to week, not year to year. No longer a question of "if", but rather a matter of "when". I think that his collarbone has obviously not mended like they had first hoped and so here we sit - 159 days since Jordan Hicks broke it in September and 92 days since Thomas Davis got him again on Thanksgiving Day - without any further resolution that he is as good as new and ready to play. I might remind you that the Cowboys resisted the obvious plans of putting him on injured reserve because they originally assumed he would be available for the NFC Championship Game which was played on January 24th. 33 days ago.

So, I don't believe his collarbone has mended properly since Thankgsiving. And I sure don't believe it healed like they thought it would from September - as evidenced best that he broke it again on a rather normal-looking hit on Thankgsiving Day. I am far from a medical expert, but I can read a calendar. When they talk about this 8-10 weeks business and we sit here at the end of February and discuss further procedures, but still under the banner of "everything is fine and there is no reason for alarm", I am tempted to sound the sirens. I am not buying it anymore. This Mumford procedure that discusses shaving off part of the clavicle seems like a very odd way to strengthen a collarbone. I am positive I am showing my medical ignorance, but I also am assuming that most people having that procedure are not having 300 lb linemen like Fletcher Cox or Johnathan Hankins trying to slam them right on their collarbone at their first chance in an effort to remove the Cowboys biggest and most indispensible weapon from the proceedings.

I don't like it. In fact, I don't believe the rhetoric coming out of Valley Ranch on this topic anymore. I don't believe this 5-year window nonsense, and frankly, I don't believe they believe it either. There have been 8 QBs who were starters when Tony Romo took over the job in Dallas and remain starters today (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, and Romo). The only one to have started as few games as Romo is Palmer, and that is only because the injury-prone Palmer also has a 9-game contract holdout to his credit. In other words, Romo has the worst health-related attendance record in his peer group, and it doesn't look like it will ever get better.

He is an awesome QB, but this morning, after another week of Romo medical news that doesn't seem to get big headlines but does give me indigestion, I am feeling stronger than ever that the Cowboys know this reality and are taking a QB at #4. And they are not just doing it because it is the pick on their board. They are doing it because they quietly must know that the risks of expecting Romo to handle this on his own broad shoulders are now too great to take. The Romo-era is winding down quicker than they are willing to verbalize at the moment and I think an over/under on 24 more starts is about the betting line I think would be fair.

I think they will take a QB high this year (maybe #34, but most likely #4) and are merely being smart about not showing their hand until they must to get teams to not take their guy. This is all opinion, but my opinion is growing in conviction by the day. If Romo is starting in Super Bowl 53 for the Cowboys, I will feel silly about this Spring 2016 opinion existing, but that would be a mistake I would like to be guilty of. I justdon't think I am.

Ok, let's get down to business with your questions for the week. But, I see I am out of space in Part 1. So Part 2 will go through the mailbag:

Ok, speed round time for the many draft questions that are on my plate this morning:

Q: is there a QB2 on a team that's a possible QB1 that could be had for a pick or package? - @Hawk2973

A: I will be honest. I don't think this is an ideal plan. The QBs that are currently on the market represent enormous risk if you are thinking (like I am) that the Cowboys are no longer shopping for a proper back-up QB, but rather someone who they think could still be their QB in 2020. So, that immediately eliminates almost all of the retreads for likely candidates.

There might be a few exceptions, but in the case of Robert Griffin III, you have several elements that have to be strongly considered. What does he think his value is? He is used to making a ton of money per season. How important is competing for the starting spot? Because for now, they are going to proceed with Romo as the starter, but that might not be the case in October. They just can't sell Griffin on this Romo fear because that is something you really can't verbalize to impress a free agent. And, most importantly for me, how fit does he look? Because last August he looked like a rather broken QB both physically and between the ears.

Beyond that, most of the usual suspects appear to be not very good options (given their teams are looking to move on) or tremendous risks for value (Brock Osweiler, for instance, would cost a huge amount if Denver were to pass on a big offer) on unproven talent. That is why I keep coming back to the premise that the best idea is still to draft my next guy. Fixed costs, tons of potential, and a healthy body to mold from Day 1.

Q: What free agent back interests you the most out of Forte, Ivory, Miller?

A: This is interesting for sure. Lamar Miller is the best of the bunch at the age of 24, but I am not convinced that the Dolphins are going to let him get out of Miami. You are talking about a guy who was born in Miami, played all of his football of his entire life in Miami, and it isn't like the Dolphins have a better option. So, in terms of a realistic plan, I sure think Matt Forte is going to have a strong market for his services. But, when you talk about having a grasp of all of the components of a complete back, if Forte was in my mix, I would be awfully confident. He seems like a real dynamic weapon and ideal as a passing-down option who understands what is expected of him. I think there is still plenty of meat on that bone for the former Chicago Bears runner.

Q: I try not to approach the 4th pick with tunnel vision, but it's also difficult to balance that when you clearly see potential QB trouble up ahead. Wentz and Goff are number 1 and 2 in either order, depending on who you ask. I know you prefer Goff, but in your analysis, how do they compare? What puts Goff ahead? - Russ Giles

A: Well, first off, Russ, I want to be clear. I don't think there is a massive difference between the two. For me, what puts Goff ahead is the feeling that his grasp of the smarts required for a big time NFL QB seem to be there with a combination to know where to go with the football and an interest in pushing the ball down the field after he finds the appealing option. I think the hand-size information is certainly a bit worrisome, but watching his work as a QB last fall gave me proof that he knows what he is doing and his ceiling seems very high. Now, for Wentz, I have better size, a stronger arm, and better run ability. I do worry about the size of the stage because I realize he has been in big games, but not only is he moving up to the NFL, but he is doing it at the biggest circus tent in the league. I think he has the tools to handle it all, but there is a certain element of the unknown, and I do think he showed lesser mechanics in his throwing footwork and pocket presence.

Again, I really like them both. I have Goff as my 3rd best player in this draft and Wentz as my 6th, so neither is a stretch at #4. I can talk myself into either because both are prospects I would be ecstatic to add to my organization. Goff is ahead on a slightly better resume and a slightly higher ceiling. Wentz has not dealt with anything close to the speed of NFL defenses, so I guess my confidence with Goff is marginally higher. The good news (or bad news) is that the decision will be made for you. There is a 90% chance one of them is there, but a 10% chance both of them are available when the Cowboys pick. In other words, Cleveland will choose for you.

Q: Unfortunately, I just don't believe there's a "QB of the future" in the 1st round of the draft this year. It also feels like we won't take Jalen Ramsey because of Claiborne. Just go get a difference maker like Ezekiel Elliot, right? The Rams took took Todd Gurley too early, right!? Haha...-Reinhold

A: Well, I clearly disagree about QB of the future, but let's follow your logic. I would take Jalen Ramsey as my favorite defensive player in this draft. I take him and absolutely don't look back at the Morris Claiborne situation as any sort of guidance on that at all. It was clearly a butchered pick but it has nothing to do with this draft. As for Elliot, I had Todd Gurley as my favorite RB in any draft since Adrian Peterson so I would have taken him in the Top 5 last year. But, I don't have Elliot that high, personally. I will do his profile in March, but I would suggest that I absolutely have him valued quite highly, but I just think you can do better at #4 than him. That said, if they did end up with the prospect who seems quite capable at most every component of the RB skill set, I think everyone would get behind that pretty quickly. For me, though, I don't anticipate getting behind that at this juncture.

Q: Have you ever seen any player fall faster than Joseph Randle?

A: Have you ever heard of this Manziel character? He just turned 23. That was faster.

Q: What do you make of all of these ridiculous combine questions? I heard that one prospect was asked if he would murder someone if he knew he'd get away from it. What's the point of that kind of question?

A: I assume questions like that are common. Perhaps even the "baby Hitler" hypothetical. They get about 15 minutes with these guys to try to figure out how bright, contemplative, morally-obligated, and just sharp they are. To do so, they likely have spent money on research questions to get people to show their cards. On one hand, it all seems silly, but as I expanded last week, this is the biggest riddle in sports - to try to figure out how badly someone wishes to be great at their profession when they are handed a giant pile of money as they leave college. There is no great way to find out what makes them tick, so teams experiment. I don't blame them.

Q: Tunsil, Goff and Wentz go, 1, 2, 3. Who do you pick at 4? What's the farthest you would consider moving down? - @Bdunndunn

A: My board says the next 3 would be, in order, Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, LaQuon Treadwell. I think you would be tempted to jump Bosa up given the situation at DE, but that is a very appealing group right there that would fire me up. Ramsey is my favorite, but Bosa would be a great addition. I don't buy this "not a sack guy" stuff on Bosa. He makes more plays behind the line of scrimmage than pretty much any player in this draft. Sacks and Tackles For Loss were his spot and he was quite productive and disruptive.

Q: How much attention do you pay to the combine? For you, does a bad performance at the combine outweigh a player's good game tape?

A: Well, I always watch the Combine because it allows us to see them all compared to each other with measurable talents that are part of the evaluation process. But, to your point, the game tape is always going to be more important than this. I would call this combine and pro day a series of "tie breakers" between comparable talent. It is good to see them all in the same place and get to know them better. But, the best way to evaluate football players is to study them playing football.

Q: Hi Bob. Really like your breakdowns of all of these prospects. Is there one in particular that you were so wrong about that it's embarrassing? Who was it?

A: The one that always sticks out were my questions about Von Miller. I thought he would have a tough time at the next level as he seemed to be a tweener. But, I clearly got that one wrong. My faith in Johnny Manziel was way to high as well. Too low on an Aggie and too high on an Aggie.

Q: is there any way in the world the Cowboys mess this pick up? Seems almost impossible - @smoffittou

A: Well, there is no such thing as a bust-proof pick, but when you consider the Top 6 players on my list and the Cowboys have the 4th pick, I will be shocked if they don't get a fantastic player. I am not sure they get their QB for the next decade, but they should get an absolutely phenomenal addition to their roster that should instantly be one of their Top 5 talents in the organization.

Have a great weekend!

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