IRVING, Texas – If anyone outside the organization would keep an eye on Tony Romo's career, it would be the head coach who played at Romo's alma mater and served a role in bringing the quarterback to Dallas.
Saints coach Sean Payton said he believes Romo's playing better this year than at any time in his career. Payton, who was an assistant head coach on Bill Parcells' staff in Dallas when Romo came to the Cowboys in 2003 as an undrafted quarterback from Eastern Illinois, still admires Romo's ability to keep plays alive.
"He's having, I think, the best year of his career this season, right now," Payton said. "Just having a chance to watch three games myself on that side of the ball, he's been very good in regards to his decision making. He knows pre-snap where he wants to go. He's got a very quick way of getting through his progressions and the ball comes out extremely fast."
Payton, who was also a quarterback at Eastern Illinois 20 years prior to Romo, may not have been able to predict just how successful Romo would become, but he's certainly proud of how far Romo's taken his talents since 2003.
The Saints' head coach also credits Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and Garrett's staff for giving him throws that Romo's comfortable with.
"There's certainly a progression of reps at that position and there's also been a lot of different players that he's participated with, but I'll say this, (Romo)'s very comfortable," Payton said. "He's got a very quick release, and I think he locates the ball very well.
"His ability to move and extend plays and avoid pressure and avoid sacks has served him very well. So I think from a decision-making standpoint, each year you're seeing someone who's very comfortable in the system." [embedded_ad]
There were rumors at one point that Payton, who became the head coach of the Saints in 2006, considered trading for Romo before Drew Brees went on to become the team's franchise quarterback. As much as Payton admires what Romo has done, he quelled those rumors.
"That was a lot of fun talk," Payton said. "No. Listen, that was back in '06, and it really never came up. We had the second pick in the draft. We were looking closely at the quarterbacks in that draft and then after the combine is when Drew became available from San Diego. So, no. In fairness to the question, I don't think there was anything that ever really got started and it really wasn't even discussed."
But Payton still follows the career of Romo, who'd go on to set the record for all-time touchdown passes among Cowboys quarterbacks.
"I know he and I are second and third at Eastern Illinois in touchdowns," Payton joked. "They got this young quarterback, this (Jimmy) Garoppolo, that's kind of shattered every one of Tony's records or mine. Look, it's great to see the success he's having. After the draft when you're able to sign a free agent, I know he was someone we had a lot of interest in and discussed drafting that '03 year in the later rounds."
They didn't, but Romo's come a long way since choosing the Cowboys in free agency after the 2003 NFL Draft.
"He looked closely at his options and found a place that he felt comfortable," Payton said. "There's been a lot of sweat, a lot of hard work, I'm sure, that has gone into that process. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to work with him for three years before coming here. To see the success he's had now and each year, his growth is always pleasing when you've had a chance to work with someone like that."