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Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones, right, says quarterback Tony Romo is ready to take the team to the next level.
IRVING, Texas — Jerry Jones says Tony Romo has committed to spending “Peyton Manning-type time” trying to turn the Dallas Cowboys into Super Bowl contenders again.
Reaction to the words from the Dallas owner and general manager came fast: Does that mean Romo hasn’t done enough to make team headquarters his second home in six full seasons as the starting quarterback?
“No. It’s a bonus,” Jones says. “Anybody will tell you that Peyton Manning’s involvement in what they do is a bonus as opposed to what the general commitment is of top quarterbacks in the NFL. We’ve committed and he’s committed to that type of in-season and offseason approach for these years under his contract — as part of the $100 million.”
Jones winks and smiles as he throws out the ballpark figure of the six-year, $108 million extension he gave Romo in March — a deal with more guaranteed money than Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco of Baltimore.
While Jones sees Romo as something of a budding business partner, a skeptical fan base sees a full-time golfer and part-time quarterback who used to date celebrity girlfriends before settling down with his wife and first child.
Critics are looking through the lenses of one playoff win and a 1-6 record in elimination games since Romo took over in the middle of the 2006 season. And the last thing they saw was a huge interception that ended a chance to beat Washington and sent Romo to his third loss in five seasons in playoff-or-bust finales against an NFC East rival.
Jones’ glasses — call them rose-colored if you’d like — see that playoff win as the only time a quarterback not named Troy Aikman won in the postseason since the Cowboys stopped winning Super Bowls nearly two decades ago.
Plus, the owner wonders where the Cowboys would be without Romo, considering they were second-to-last in rushing a season ago with a struggling offensive line and an unreliable defense. Romo is the franchise leader in touchdown passes and probably two seasons away from catching Aikman in yards and completions.
That’s where Jones was coming from when he started hinting in the statement announcing Romo’s contract extension that his 33-year-old quarterback would be something of a player-CEO when it comes to the Dallas offense.
Jones showed he wasn’t kidding by seeking Romo’s input before Dallas drafted Wisconsin center/guard Travis Frederick late in the first round and grabbed a complement to tight end Jason Witten in Gavin Escobar of San Diego State in the second round. Neither player was projected as high as he was picked.
“The more Tony can be involved in what we’re doing offensively, the more the product we have out there (that) complements his skills, the more we’re going to do it,” Jones said.
The draft talk is more symbolic — Jones says a few minutes of input can’t outweigh a year’s worth of scouting work — but it was noteworthy that Romo called Frederick “the best player in this draft at his position” the day after he was taken.
The cameras from the post-draft news conference with coach Jason Garrett were gone when Jones, the self-professed gambler, went more all in than he already was with Romo by invoking the name of Manning, the Denver quarterback and Super Bowl winner in Indianapolis who’s been known to beat coaches to the training facility in the morning.
“I can speak for Jason in this respect,” Jones said. “Everything he’s about wants more buy-in and more participation from the player. So that if Tony for instance would be here Monday through Saturday, that is far better, and be here from 7 in the morning till 6 o’clock at night and all over the place. Then that’s better than the way it’s been. We’ll have more success.”
Romo has left open for interpretation his comments after the signing that things were changing. He didn’t have to answer questions from reporters, but he tried to address through a statement what he knew was on the minds of many fans who question whether he deserved such a huge payday without a better playoff pedigree.
“There will be no greater reward, besides winning a Super Bowl, than playing my entire career as a Dallas Cowboy,” Romo said. “This football team that we have is a good team and with all the people we have coming back and the things we are doing behind the scenes, it will make us a very difficult ballclub to beat.”
The fans know of one big change: an overhaul of the defensive coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired, replaced by Monte Kiffin and one of his most respected lieutenants, Rod Marinelli, who is in charge of the defensive line after turning down a chance to remain the defensive coordinator in Chicago. Dallas is scrapping Ryan’s tricked-up version of the 3-4 and going with a more traditional 4-3.
The offense? Garrett and offensive line coach Bill Callahan have been coy since Jones suggested that Garrett was likely to give up play-calling duties.
Callahan was the logical choice for that job because he called plays at Nebraska and with the Oakland Raiders, but Garrett keeps saying he hasn’t decided if he will give up something he’s done since Jones brought his him as offensive coordinator in 2007.
This is where Romo enters the conversation again. Will he or should he call his own plays? How much input should he have on the offensive game plan?
Jones isn’t ready to declare that Romo will have Manning-type control off the offense, but the owner seems several steps beyond the days when he released polarizing receiver Terrell Owens after missing the playoffs in 2008 and said the offense needed to be more “Romo-friendly.”
“That’ll all be ironed out,” Jones said. “Romo will be very comfortable and will be how he’s comfortable relative to the play-calling.”
For fans to get comfortable with him, Romo will have to do what he did in 2007 when he led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record — plus a couple of things he couldn’t do that season. He’ll have to stay away from Cabo San Lucas during the bye week that goes with being the top seed, and he’ll have to win a playoff game, probably more than one.
Jones still believes Romo can be Aikman in something more than stats, and the owner has proven it throughout the offseason with his mouth and his pocketbook.
“It meant something to him and to me that he commit to what I’m talking about doing more time and that he commits to doing more time,” Jones said. “It’s part of his job description.”
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