In 2012, the Denver Broncos signed Peyton Manning, a brilliant quarterback who was essentially abandoned by his old squad, the Indianapolis Colts, after he underwent neck surgery. The result was an outstanding record of success, two Super Bowl appearances and one championship.
Is history about to repeat itself? Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, an undeniably outstanding talent, has found himself in Manning's position after a major injury of his own. And this morning, ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, stars of the popular Mike & Mike program, argued that the Broncos should sign him up in a re-do of the Peyton formula.
But repeating this feat could be even more difficult this time around.
The topic arose thanks to comments made by Romo during a press conference yesterday — his first since he suffered a compression-fracture injury to his back during this year's preseason. He's now been medically cleared to play, but rookie Dak Prescott, who was pressed into service after Romo went down, has led the Cowboys to an NFL-best 8-1 record, and every expert with a working brain agrees that pulling the newcomer at this point would be categorically insane.
Romo admitted as much during his media chat.
"We all know something magical is happening to our team," he said. "I'm not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction. I think Dak knows that I have his back. And I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately, it's about the team. It's what we've preached our entire lives."
If Prescott is the Cowboys' QB of the future, however, Romo is unlikely to stay with the team. He's 36 years old, and while he's in his career's final stage, he still has the talent to start and excel — and perhaps get his hands on that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Where should he go? Greenberg, the world's biggest New York Jets fan, rejected the idea of Romo taking the helm of that beleaguered franchise, which isn't ready to compete at the highest level. Likewise, he didn't think it made sense for Romo to jump to terrible teams such as the Cleveland Browns or the Chicago Bears and be stuck on a loser until retirement.
In his view, then, the perfect fit for Romo is the Broncos, a team that has everything it needs to make another Super Bowl run with the exception of a first-rate signal-caller.
Greenberg roots for current Broncos QB Trevor Siemian, since both of them went to Northwestern — but he sees Romo as a Manning-like upgrade that could immediately put Denver back on top again. And Golic robustly seconded that emotion.
What's the matter with this rosy scenario? Romo's injury history. Manning's neck problem was extremely serious and could easily have reduced him to a shadow of his former greatness; the Broncos took a huge risk in bringing him aboard, and it paid off. But Peyton had otherwise proven to be quite resilient during his years on the gridiron, while Romo has been hurt time and time again.
For proof, check out this laundry list of Romo wounds assembled by Fox Sports:
The most worrisome of these injuries involve Romo's back.
Quite simply, back problems are among the most difficult for NFL players to overcome. Just ask current Broncos DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, both of whom have been dealing with back issues. Romo's great when he's on the field. Less so when he's flat on his...well, you know.
Nevertheless, John Elway will likely be sorely tempted to bring Romo aboard after the season's over, especially if the Broncos under-perform — and with a killer schedule in front of them and the rise of division rivals such as the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs, missing the playoffs remains a very real possibility.
Siemian has played adequately this season, but he looks more like a solid backup than the kind of QB that can lead the team for the long haul, and rookie Paxton Lynch remains largely an unknown quantity. A healthy Romo is almost certainly better than both of them at this stage. But how long Romo remains healthy is the big unknown.
Don't expect such questions to be answered immediately. But be ready for them to be asked time and time again over the coming weeks and months, by Mike & Mike and others.
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Here's Romo's press conference from yesterday.