Originally Published: April 4, 2017 11 p.m.
DALLAS — Tony Romo couldn’t bring himself to use the word “retired” and didn’t have an answer for whether he would have decided to replace another former quarterback in Phil Simms as lead analyst for CBS if he hadn’t lost his starting job in Dallas.
This much Romo did know: Teams were interested in him continuing his chase for an elusive Super Bowl, and he couldn’t pass up a chance to go straight from the field to a No. 1 booth with Emmy Award-winning play-by-play man Jim Nantz.
“It reminds me of my rookie year where you really don’t know anything,” Romo said. “You’re walking into a brand new situation and you can kinda play the game. I can kinda talk. But this is a completely different world. I like that challenge.”
Romo’s release by the Cowboys and his deal with CBS were announced simultaneously Tuesday — roughly four weeks later than Dallas owner Jerry Jones told the franchise passing leader he would turn him loose to pursue other teams.
The delay gave Romo time to consider his future after two injury-filled seasons, which cost him the job he had for 10 years when rookie Dak Prescott directed a club-record 11-game winning streak after Romo’s preseason back injury. It was his fourth back injury since 2013.
Now the married father of two young boys with a third child on the way has chosen the path taken by two former Dallas quarterbacks — Don Meredith of “Monday Night Football” fame and three-time Super Bowl winner and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, the lead analyst for Fox since 2002.
“It wasn’t a simple decision,” said Romo, who will work Thursday night and Sunday games . “It got easier when I started to really get excited about working with CBS. That part of it got the juices flowing and started to get you excited to be a part of a team and go attack a craft.”
As for that retirement thing, Romo left little doubt that his playing days were likely over while also saying there was “absolutely interest” from other teams.
Romo said his personal list was topped by Houston, which has unproven Tom Savage as the starter after dumping high-priced Brock Osweiler in a trade following one less-than-impressive season.
“I could play tomorrow. I’m making this decision with the choice to be able to play as well,” said Romo, who turns 37 this month.
“Do I envision coming back and playing football? Absolutely not. I’m committed to CBS for good. Do I think I’m going to get some calls? I’m sure I will.”
The four-time Pro Bowler who rose to stardom after going undrafted in 2003 out of lower-division Eastern Illinois is the franchise leader with 34,183 yards passing and 248 touchdowns. He’s fourth all-time in passer rating (97.1).
But Romo never parlayed his regular-season success into deep playoff runs the way Roger Staubach and Aikman did before him, going 78-49 as the starter but 2-4 in the postseason, with no road victories and no trips to the NFC championship game.
Romo said his release was a financial consideration — he would have had to repay a portion of his signing bonus upon retirement — and he praised Jones despite the sudden change of plans when free agency opened early last month.
“As an organization, we did what he asked us to do in terms of his release, and we wanted to do what was ultimately in his best interest and in the best interest of his family,” Jones said. “He is a young man who is just getting started on a long journey in life. All the best, my friend.”
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said the network planned to keep Simms and was working on finding another role for their lead analyst the past 19 seasons.
McManus said he first thought Romo had promise in that role after Romo gave him a breakdown of the New England-Seattle matchup during a Super Bowl party before the Patriots beat the Seahawks two years ago. He called Romo’s sudden ascension a “very manageable risk.”
“Will he be better Week 6 than he is Week 1? Yes he will be,” McManus said. “Will he better in Year 2 than he is in Year 1? Yes. But if we didn’t have the faith in Tony, we didn’t have the faith in the fact that he can be an outstanding analyst, we wouldn’t be taking this risk.”
Ultimately, Romo said he didn’t trust himself to meet with teams that might view him as the missing piece for a Super Bowl title.
“I’ve known my nature and I’ve known my competitive side,” said Romo, whose departure has been expected since a November speech conceding the Dallas job to Prescott. “And if I get in front of some of these teams, I’m going to be enticed to really want to go to play.”
Romo, who was signed through 2019, had a $14 million base salary and a $24.7 million salary cap hit for the Cowboys this season. The release will reduce Dallas’ cap hit to about $19 million, split roughly in half over two seasons.
His final play was a 3-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in a meaningless regular-season finale at Philadelphia last season. His last snap in a home regular-season game was the last of three broken collarbones sustained in his career, on Thanksgiving in 2015 against Carolina.
Along with family, health and the chance to star at CBS right away, Romo acknowledged that finishing his career with another team weighed on him.
“I’m a Dallas Cowboy. I understand that,” Romo said. “I really like to think that some guys have done it exactly right. Others probably wish they could do things a little bit different. There’s a handful of guys that just get lucky and everything works out perfectly.”
For Romo, the first Super Bowl figures to be in the booth when it’s CBS’ turn again in 2019.
More like this story
- Cowboys delay talk of Romo’s future, likely knowing answer on QB status
- NFL Preseason Update: Cowboys QB Moore healthy, now behind Prescott
- Cowboys to release Romo
- Playoff Preview: Cowboys’ Bryant faces Packers again after a catch that wasn’t
- Cowboys forced to chart course without stars Romo, Bryant