Editor's Note: This is the third of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2015 season. The series continues with the quarterbacks.
Pressing Matters:You can always find something pressing to talk about when you've got a quarterback getting paid $20 million per year. Tony Romo isn't injured, like he was following the 2013 season, and he isn't expecting a contract extension, like he was following the 2012 season. The Cowboys do need to decide if they want to restructure Romo's current deal, though. By doing so, they could free up roughly $10 million in salary cap space to sign free agents – including their own. The only problem with that strategy is that it kicks Romo's salary figures higher in coming years, which would make him a bigger burden on the salary cap and a harder player to part ways with, should the team need to do so. To put it simply: it would help the Cowboys in 2015 if they restructured the deal, but it would help them in 2016 and 2017 if they don't. Both Jerry and Stephen Jones have already said that it's no guarantee they'll opt to restructure Romo, but it's something they'll need to figure out.
2014 Evaluation:The front office might decide to risk restructuring Romo's contract because of how fantastic he was in his most recent outing. Coming off a back surgery and a reduced role in training camp, Romo had by far the best season of his career. He didn't set career highs for yardage or touchdown, but he was as efficient as he has ever been, leading the NFL in both completion percentage and passer rating. His single-season passer rating of 113.2 is the sixth-highest in NFL history. This is probably as bright as the quarterback spot has looked for Dallas in the last five years, though it's easy to be concerned about depth – especially given Romo's injury history. When Romo left the Washington game early in Week 8, Brandon Weeden led the offense to 10 points on two possessions in relief. But the next week, when Romo sat out, he had an awful afternoon against a ferocious Arizona Cardinals defense. The Cowboys wound up not needing Weeden again – with the exception of garbage time – but it left a terrifying impression about what might happen if Romo got hurt again. The team surprisingly carried a third quarterback, rookie Dustin Vaughan, on the 53-man roster all season. He was inactive for all but one game, and he never played a snap, but his presence on the roster gives a good idea of what the coaching staff saw from him.
Need More From: It wouldn't be hard to put Romo in this because NFL teams can only go as far as their quarterbacks carry them in most cases. The better answer is Weeden, though, because Romo just finished playing the season of his life. For the rest of his career, Romo's back is probably going to be an issue he'll deal with. With that in mind, you'd love to feel more confident about your backup when he might be just one or two hits away from playing a series, or a game or the rest of the season. Obviously, most NFL teams would probably like to have a better backup quarterback, but Weeden has shown us he can play well in the right circumstances. In that Washington game, he completed 4-of-6 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown against a defense that was bringing pressure. The Cowboys need more of that Weeden and less of the one who imploded against Arizona.
Upgrades Needed:Plenty of people are going to suggest the Cowboys spend a draft pick on a quarterback, but that feels a little too early. The better bet is that the team uses this offseason to evaluate what it has in Dustin Vaughan. He signed as a free agent after going undrafted, and he impressed enough people in training camp that he earned a spot on the 53-man roster – which is something the Cowboys haven't done in recent years. He'll have the offseason program and training camp, and the Cowboys should get a better idea of what type of potential he has.
By The Numbers:
- Romo set career lows for attempts, yardage and interceptions during seasons in which he started 13 or more games.
- His passer rating of 113.2 and completion percentage of 69.9 were career highs by a significant margin – 11 points and three points, respectively.
- Despite his lows in attempts and yardage, Romo set a career high for touchdowns with 34. He was plus-25 in touchdown-to-interception differential, which is another career best.
- Weeden participated in five games and had a passer rating of 100 or higher in three of those. Granted, he threw a combined eight passes in those three games.
- In Weeden's lone start, he posted a passer rating of 55.5.