Skip to main content

Helman: Why I Won't Close The Door On Tony Romo's Playing Career

FRISCO, Texas – If his first day of retirement is any indicator, Tony Romo should be quite good at talking for a living.

That was my main impression from Romo's CBS conference call on Tuesday afternoon, where he spoke for roughly an hour about all the moving parts surrounding his release by the Cowboys and his subsequent move into broadcasting.

The former Cowboys quarterback was thoughtful, introspective, honest and incredibly snarky in answering questions from reporters. He poked fun at reporters who have covered him for these last 14 years, and he joked about how CBS wants him to host The Masters this weekend.

He also spoke honestly about having opportunities to play quarterback, and opting to side with television as his focus going forward.

"Just knowing what I wanted to do for the next 15, 20, 30 years. I'm really excited about the new challenge ahead," Romo said. "I didn't come to this conclusion lightly."

Romo sounded like a guy who is at peace with a tough decision, and I'll admit he did a good job of convincing me he can be a top-notch NFL broadcaster. His brief breakdown of the Patriots' second-half game plan in Super Bowl LI was as compelling as anything I've heard on a game broadcast in recent memory.

And yet, having said all of this, I still wonder how much we'll see of Tony Romo as an NFL broadcaster – because I'm not 100 percent convinced we've seen the last of him as an NFL player.

Maybe that's a crazy opinion to have in mid-April, as several of my friends and coworkers have already told me. Romo was just given the No. 1 NFL job at America's most popular network – a job CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said only four other people have held going back to the 1960s.

Romo is going to be paid handsomely to call NFL games. He's under contract. He's about to be 37 and has a lengthy injury history, and he's got a young family to think about.

And yet, here's Romo in his own words, asked on Tuesday afternoon about his competitive fire:

"I don't know that the competitive fire ever is going to go away. For athletes, that's going to be there. That's probably something that Troy Aikman, Cris Collinsworth, Phill Simms still fight to this day," he said. "I think we all understand there's a shelf life. But as we learned with Brett Favre, that shelf life obviously can take on a life of its own."

I think it's ironic that in affirming his own competitive drive, Romo mentioned Favre – his childhood hero, who dabbled with retirement several times before ultimately calling it a career.

In fact, a tweet on Tuesday afternoon from USA Today's Tom Pelissero shed some interesting light on the subject when remembering Favre's own dalliances with retirement:

Now, obviously this is all speculation on my part. As I've already mentioned, there are a lot of factors that could keep Tony Romo off the football field in the future. His family, his commitment to CBS and the lucrative nature of his new job all seem like compelling factors.

But how many times have we seen the game compel a player back for one more go-around?

In a departure from his typically reticent nature, Romo even acknowledged that he couldn't completely guarantee he would never play again.

"I don't envision coming out," he said. "But I've also seen enough things, from 'I'm not going to Alabama,' to 'I'm done playing football' that happen in life."

For those that don't remember, Romo was hearkening back to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who swore up and down he wouldn't be coaching the Crimson Tide back in 2006 – and has since built one of the most impressive dynasties in college football history, at Alabama.

Romo has spent too much time around the NFL to not understand how this works. People retire, people get hurt, and teams take drastic measures to rectify those problems. Consider the bounty the Minnesota Vikings paid for Sam Bradford in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater's injury last season. Consider the fact that the Cowboys don't have a fifth-round pick this year's draft – because they traded it away for Matt Cassel in the wake of Romo's 2015 collarbone.

The violent and unpredictable nature of football changes things instantaneously, and Romo was again honest in acknowledging how that might affect him moving forward.

"Do I think I'm going to get some calls? I'm sure I will," he said. "There's not enough quarterbacks as is to win 12 games in the NFL anyway. So I do feel like, for me, the reality is that's going to happen."

Now, Romo was quick to follow that comment by saying he doesn't think that decision will be difficult. He went a step further by saying he's "99 percent" certain that he has retired for good.

But 99 percent is not 100 percent. Everyone in the world was 99 percent certain that Romo would take his starting job back from Dak Prescott when he was healthy enough to play last fall.

Stuff happens.

How heavy will that one percent weigh in August, when a playoff contender suffers a season-changing injury and needs a veteran to steer the ship? What about November, when someone goes down and a hero is needed to step in for the home stretch.

The Cowboys released Romo to help their salary cap, so all of these options are possible. There is no longer an obstacle stopping him from signing anywhere he wants to. For that matter, perhaps he could wind up back in Dallas – if another year's worth of freak circumstances create a need for a quarterback.

Obviously, these are all hypotheticals, and they're all hard to predict. Maybe the right set of circumstances will never come along, and Romo won't ever be put in position to debate the merits of returning. Maybe, as he predicted himself on the conference call, his work in the TV booth will be challenging enough and fulfilling enough to keep him content.

I'm not saying he's definitively going to return to football. But in thinking about his retirement, I can't get his words from last November's emotional press conference out of my head:

"If you think for a second that I don't want to be out there, then you've probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning," he said. "That hasn't left me. In fact it may burn more now than ever."

Maybe Romo can subdue that fire, as Aikman, Collinsworth and Simms did before him. Maybe he truly has played his last down of football. He said he's 99 percent that he's done.

Fittingly, it reminds me a lot of so many games that Romo played as the Cowboys' quarterback. As long as you're telling me there's some slim chance, I'm not willing to rule it out.


This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content