DENVER -- The Dallas Cowboys continue to inch toward the logical conclusion of an emotional breakup.
An anticipated outcome will unfold Thursday with the Cowboys releasing veteran quarterback Tony Romo, according to multiple reports. The move allows the Cowboys to spread out the remaining $19.6 million on Romo's contract over two years. And it provides a clear pathway for the Broncos, and likely Texans, to engage in a battle for a quarterback for the second straight offseason.
A year ago, the Broncos lost in a bidding war for Brock Osweiler -- and won. Osweiler accepted a four-year, $72 million deal and bombed, benched late in the season for Tom Savage. Romo's market has not taken shape, but he has told those close to him he prefers to go to a contender. He believes he can play multiple seasons at a high level, and the Broncos and Texans can make the argument they are one piece away.
Broncos general manager John Elway and coach Vance Joseph both admitted Denver would explore a quarterback in free agency, with Elway saying, "We are open to anything."
Translation: They are interested in pursuing Romo. This is not just an Elway-driven move, but the coaching staff as well. With the Broncos bent on rebounding from a nine-win season, Joseph would embrace a proven winner. Romo has won 78 games in the NFL, but just two in the postseason. When it appeared Romo would be released during last season, he identified Denver as a top destination.
It makes sense. The Broncos possess a championship-caliber defense -- especially if they get a run stuffer in the draft or free agency -- and sit one year removed from a title. They have also traveled this path successfully before, allowing for the seamless transition of Peyton Manning.
Let's be clear, Romo is not Manning. Manning had won a Super Bowl before arriving in Denver and suffered one significant injury his career. Romo has broken his collarbone multiple times and fractured his L1 vertebrae in the preseason a year ago. He played in the preseason to see if his body would hold up, and he suffered the injury on the first hit. And remember Romo will be 37 in April, having started four times in two seasons.
The issue when the Broncos meet with Romo is contract parameters, injury protection, and his desire to be a Bronco. Elway has carved a reputation on finding a number he's comfortable with -- and staying close to it. He walked away from a potential Colin Kaepernick deal last spring when unable to land the quarterback at the desired salary. According to sources, the Broncos would like Romo to take an annual deal in the $10 to $12 million range with active roster/playoff incentives to reach $14 to $15 million. There would also likely be clauses to provide cover for injuries, too, making the structure of the deal fascinating. Manning had to pass yearly physicals on his neck as part of his contract.
Elway's recruiting pitch will be strong. The Broncos can draw on their past experience with Manning, point to their stout defense, and cite Mike McCoy's veteran-friendly offense which calls for the football to come out quickly. The downside? The Broncos, even with a quicker release attack to avoid hits on the quarterback, need to upgrade the offensive line. Denver is open to bringing back left tackle Russell Okung, who is interested in returning. However, the Panthers and Giants are pursuing the veteran and may offer more money. The Broncos remain in the market for a right guard, including Detroit's Larry Warford, Green Bay's T.J. Lang. and, Minnesota's Brandon Fusco. They are also looking at right tackles with Riley Reiff among the tops available as Denver casts a wide net over top tier and second-level players.
While the parallels are drawn to Manning this is a different situation. The Broncos had no plan B in their pursuit of Manning, who was chased to replace Tim Tebow. Denver feels more comfortable in its quarterback position with Trevor Siemian, who exceeded expectations, and former first-round pick Paxton Lynch. Romo delivered a career year in 2014 with 34 touchdown passes, but has six touchdowns and seven picks over the past two years.
He desires to finish with a flourish. Denver and Houston offer the most likely destinations.