DENVER -- The game of Texas Hold'em continues.
The Dallas Cowboys have elected to keep quarterback Tony Romo and pursue a trade rather than release him. It sets up a staredown between the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. Dallas owner Jerry Jones told Romo he would be cut, free to pursue his destination. Instead, Jones pushed the pause button Thursday, seeking to pry a draft pick from a suitor.
Other than apparently going back on his word with Romo, Jones can reconcile waiting as good business. There are no roster bonuses or escalator dates in Romo's contract. The danger in pausing is that interested teams move on with their spending and plans. The Broncos sat in a similar position a year ago with San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. General manager John Elway went so as far as to visit with Kaepernick twice in an attempt to negotiate down Kaepernick's base salary. Elway remained uncomfortable with the finances, and moved on, drafting Paxton Lynch in the first round.
In the case of Romo, the Broncos and Texans don't seem interested in acquiring Romo at his current base salary of $14 million.
Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian painted the following scenario as a roadmap for any deal on ESPN radio Friday. It begins with Romo restructuring his contract as a member of the Cowboys. He has power, and could work directly with those he's familiar with in reducing his salary. Why? Without doing it, he could block any deal and say he's not going to restructure for the new team, like for example's sake, the New York Jets.
If Jones can work with Romo on a reworked deal, it could increase the odds of a trade. The Cowboys, it follows in this scenario, would be communicating with the Texans and Broncos on a number they would find feasible. The lower Romo's salary the more likely the Cowboys get a draft pick for him. If Romo dropped to $10 million next season, his deal could could also include performance attachments to a draft pick. If he starts 14 games, a seventh round pick becomes a sixth-round pick or a even a fifth-round pick if he takes a predetermined number of snaps, for instance. Lowering the base salary with incentives provides a measure of injury protection for a team acquiring a quarterback who has played in five games the past two seasons, throwing six touchdowns with seven interceptions.
As Polian stated, "the lower the cost of (Romo's contract), the more you are likely given in return."
Again, the key would be Dallas talking with suitors to determine what they would be seeking in regards to the contract. When Houston cleared $10 million in salary cap space with the shocking trade of Brock Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns, it appeared to tip its hand. The Broncos are not operating with a sense of urgency or panic because of their comfort level with Trevor Siemian (18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions in 14 starts last season) and the presence of Lynch. Still, they have long been expected to express interest in Romo as a free agent.
The teams have to believe a trade is necessary, otherwise they will attempt to call Jones' bluff and wait for Romo to be released.
Will either team blink? A major tweak in Romo's contract could be the impetus for a twitch.