Tony Romo is poised to play for a new team in 2017.
There are a handful of contenders that may be interested in his services, but one team stands above them all as the ideal landing spot for Romo.
It’s not the Kansas City Chiefs, who have a serviceable starter in Alex Smith with the same amount of career playoff wins (2). It’s not the Arizona Cardinals, either, as Carson Palmer has announced his return for the 2017 season.
It's also not the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans or Washington Redskins. These are teams that may develop newfound interest in Romo after June 1, if the Cowboys are unable to find a trade partner and decide to cut him in order to save $14 million against the cap.
One team, however, is in perfect position to swing the trade for Romo before any of these quarterback-hungry squads get a chance to sign him as an unrestricted free agent.
That team is the Buffalo Bills.
It sounds strange: Romo going from the glamorous Cowboys to the inelegant Bills, from the delightful warmth of Dallas to the bitter cold of Buffalo. It’s tough to imagine one of the NFL’s biggest stars packing up and suiting up for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 1999 season, marking the league’s longest active postseason drought (14 seasons) — but it actually makes complete sense.
Romo is the quarterback the Bills have been missing during their stretch of ineptitude. He is also the quarterback the AFC East has been missing, as the division desperately needs someone to challenge Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for supremacy.
The Bills trading for Romo makes sense for both sides. The team is under new management, with Sean McDermott replacing Rex Ryan as head coach. In the areas where Ryan was laughable (for example, hiring his brother Rob to the coaching staff less than 12 months before his unceremonious in-season firing), McDermott has earned early praise.
"I think the good thing he’s got is he has guys who have been the head of their department,” former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Mark Dominik said recently, per Bills.com. “(Rick) Dennison has run that offensive department for so long and it’s very natural for him. Leslie (Frazier) has not only been a head coach, but a defensive coordinator before, so it’s not new to either of those guys. So I think that’s the most critical part. You’re not concerned and asking, ‘Is he going to be able to call plays?'”
McDermott appears to have a competent coaching staff in place. Now, he must spend the rest of the offseason acquiring the players he needs to make the Bills successful. That, as it does for any team, starts with the talent at the quarterback position.
Romo would be an immediate upgrade over Tyrod Taylor, who was benched in Week 17 of the 2016 season and does not appear to be the solution at quarterback. Taylor averaged 6.93 yards per pass attempt (21st in NFL) and posted an 89.6 passer rating (18th), as the Bills fielded the league’s 30th ranked passing offense with a total of 3,036 yards through the air.
It’s not hard to see why the Bills would want a quarterback like Romo; there’s also plenty of incentive for Romo to want to go to Buffalo.
The Bills fielded the NFL’s most potent rushing attack last season, averaging 164.4 yards on the ground per game. LeSean McCoy is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also catching 50 passes for 356 yards and an additional touchdown.
The last time Romo was healthy and armed with a running back of McCoy’s caliber was 2014, when DeMarco Murray claimed the rushing title with 1,845 yards. The Cowboys finished that season with a 12-4 record and advanced to the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.
Romo won’t be able to replicate the 580 yards and six touchdowns Taylor produced on the ground last season, but he’ll make the Bills more balanced on offense and far less predictable.
The veteran quarterback will also have one of the league’s most talented young receivers at his disposal in former fourth-overall draft pick Sammy Watkins. Although Watkins has struggled with injuries early in his career, he is undeniably productive when healthy and could be posed for a breakout year. Romo is the perfect player to help take this 23-year-old pass catcher's production to the next level.
While Buffalo’s lack of success since the turn of the millennium is concerning (Romo reportedly wants to play for a contender), the Bills weren’t far from posting a winning record last season. They finished 7-9 and were dealt several tough injuries throughout the year. An intriguing core of talent is already in place, and the addition of a top-tier passer in Romo could be all McDermott and the Bills need to make a push for the playoffs.
Landing Romo and making a playoff run sounds like a dreamy situation, but what about the five-year, $92 million contract extension Taylor signed just last August? Won't that get in the way of Buffalo trading for Romo due to salary cap ramifications?
It turns out the Bills actually planned for a situation like this one, as ESPN’s Mike Rodak explained shortly after Taylor inked the deal:
The Bills negotiated an extension with Taylor that gives the team unique flexibility, essentially allowing Buffalo to get out of the deal with minimal cap consequences after the upcoming season if Taylor doesn't play to the level of what he could earn in 2017 or beyond.
That essentially makes this is a one-year, $9.5 million contract for Taylor, with an option to continue after the 2017 season. If the Bills were to cut Taylor before the fourth day of the 2017 league year, they would take less than a $3 million dead-money hit in doing so.
Trading for Romo, a short-term solution at quarterback, shouldn't stop the Bills from looking for a long-term solution at the position. Perhaps that player will come in this year's draft, as they own the 10th-overall pick. Romo could mentor whomever they pick for a couple years, then eventually pass the torch and retire.
With the Bills in position to make a trade and Buffalo actually looking like a decent landing spot, the rest of the NFL teams that end up losing out in the Tony Romo Sweepstakes will be forced to pick up the pieces.
The Chiefs will have to keep trudging along with Smith, who will get them 10-plus wins during the regular season only to disappoint in the playoffs. The Broncos will move forward with their two young quarterbacks, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian, hoping that one of them will turn into a legitimate franchise quarterback.
Teams such as the Texans and Redskins will remain in limbo. Brock Osweiler, who was atrocious last season, and Kirk Cousins, who is entering a second consecutive offseason of contract negotiations, will be somewhat empowered without their respective squads having a Plan B to which they can resort in Romo.
Other teams in search of a direction at the quarterback position — such as the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns — will have to keep searching and may be pressed harder into trading for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with Romo no longer an option.
Out of all these teams, the Bills will end up with the most promising quarterback situation. Romo is a four-time Pro Bowler with a career passer rating of 97.1 The last time he started the majority of a season, he led the league in completion percentage (69.9), yards per attempt (8.5) and passer rating (113.2).
Romo can still play, when healthy, as evidenced by the single drive he led last season. On that drive, which came during a Week 17 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, he completed three of his four pass attempts, including a picture-perfect touchdown strike to wide receiver Terrance Williams.
With a healthy Romo in the fold, the Bills will become a hot pick to make the playoffs, leaving the rest of the teams that hoped to acquire him out in the cold.