FRISCO, Texas – It was the most publicized storyline of the year – a delicate situation that could have disrupted the locker room in the middle of a special season.
Dak Prescott and Tony Romo didn't let that happen.
Monday, the day after the Cowboys' 2016 season ended with a divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium, head coach Jason Garrett credited both players for handling a potential quarterback controversy with class and professionalism.
"It was a challenging situation, but the principal people, Dak Prescott and Tony Romo, just handled it beautifully," Garrett said. "We talk about the team, the team, the team and always putting the team first. Those guys put the team first. That's one of the reasons why we were able to handle it as an organization, how we were able to handle it as a football team.
"They're impressive guys. You hear me talk about the right kind of guy all the time. Those two guys are the right kind of guys."
With the season now over, Garrett spoke candidly about the factors in sticking with Prescott as the starter in November after Romo had fully recovered from a fractured bone in his back that kept him inactive for the first nine games.
At the time, the Cowboys were eight games into an 11-game winning streak with Prescott, their fourth-round draft pick, starting. On Nov. 13, he rookie threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns in a thrilling 35-30 comeback win at Pittsburgh.
Two days later, Romo made a prepared statement in which he fully supported Prescott as the starter.
"You see, football is a meritocracy. You aren't handed anything," Romo said. "You earn everything, every single day, over and over again. You have to prove it. That's the way that the NFL, that's the way that football works.
"A great example of this is Dak Prescott and what's he's done. He's earned the right to be our quarterback."
Looking back, Garrett explained why there was actually a "compelling argument" for Romo to return to his starting post: his success as a starter as recently as last season.
"He said very eloquently in his press conference about midway through the season that it's a meritocracy and Dak has earned this opportunity. In my visits with Tony after that, I said, 'I agree with you, but I actually think you've misused the word meritocracy,'" Garrett said. "Because if you look at what he's done in his last 20 starts as a Cowboy, won 15 games and lost five of them. So when he had his opportunities based on the merits, there's a compelling argument to be made that that guy should be your quarterback.
"And the thing that was challenging for him and for everybody was these decisions were independent of each other. What happened when Tony got hurt, Dak stepped in and this team got going. It went on a run, and what we needed to do was somehow, someway stay on that run. Those decisions were kind of independent of each other, because based on the merits there was a compelling argument for Tony Romo. But the team was just at a certain place and they were handling that situation so well that it was just in the best interest for us to continue down that road.
"The challenge for Tony was to kind of process that in an unemotional way and get himself ready. I thought over the course of the season he did a really good job of that, and I think he showed who he is."
Prescott led the Cowboys to a franchise-record tying 13 wins in the regular season and made the Pro Bowl as only the second player in NFL history with at least 3,500 passing yards and fewer than five interceptions in a season.
Sunday, he continued to show his growth as a player with 302 yards and a rookie postseason-record three touchdown passes in a 34-31 loss to Green Bay.
"Dak Prescott certainly did an amazing job for us this year," Garrett said. "He probably had the best year a rookie quarterback has ever had in the National Football League. And he handled his situation and his opportunity as well as anybody I've ever seen, both on and off the field. He certainly has a bright future with our organization."
Questions will now shift to Romo's future with the team after the 36-year-old spent the entire season as the backup. He's under contract through the 2019 season but did express his desire to continue competing during his Nov. 15 press conference.
Garrett said "a lot of things will play out here over the next few weeks," but he recognized Romo's importance to the organization throughout his 14-year career in Dallas.
"He's been a great leader, been a great example to his teammates, to his coaches, to the people in the community about how to go about it," Garrett said. "We certainly want the best for him, whether he's here or whether he's somewhere else.
"He's done a fantastic job. I have learned so much from him through the years. He has been such an inspirational guy to me and everybody who has been fortunate enough to be around him. So, good things will happen for Tony Romo."