Tony Romo spent his entire 14-year NFL career with the Cowboys and retired Tuesday as the franchise’s all-time leading passer.
Romo said Tuesday he understands the “history and legacy” that comes with playing for only one team during this day and age of free agency. But will that legacy eventually include induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
After stepping in for Drew Bledsoe as the Cowboys' starter in 2006, Romo threw for 34,183 yards with 248 touchdowns and 117 interceptions for a career passer rating of 97.1, just a shade behind Tom Brady’s passer rating of 97.2.
Romo’s rating is higher than Steve Young’s 96.8, which is the highest mark of any of the current Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Romo has 1,241 more passing yards than Cowboys Hall of Famer Troy Aikman and nearly 12,000 more yards than Cowboys Hall of Famer Roger Staubach. Romo also has more passing yards than Young and Hall of Famers Kurt Warner, Y.A. Tittle, Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson and Terry Bradshaw.
Aikman threw 165 touchdown passes, 83 fewer than Romo, whose 248 scoring tosses are more than Young, Tittle, Dawson, Warner and Bradshaw, as well as Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and George Blanda.
But Romo played in a different era than those quarterbacks. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has just as many touchdown passes (187) through eight seasons as Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh threw during his 16-year career from 1937-52, and Baugh led the league in passing yards four times and touchdown passes twice.
Romo went 78-49 as an NFL starter, and his win total ties Tittle for 46th all-time. But Romo was often injured and he missed most of his final season because of a preseason back injury that opened the door for Dak Prescott to emerge as Dallas’ quarterback of the future. Romo also missed most of the 2015 season because of a broken collarbone after losing 10 games to a similar injury in 2010.
That’s strike No. 1 on Romo’s Hall of Fame resume. Strike two is sort of a foul tip.
Romo was one of the more consistent quarterbacks during his career, but was never considered the best in the league. Nobody since he was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2003 would have considered Romo better than contemporaries Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning.
If there was a Hall of Very Good, Romo is a shoe-in, but it’s a tougher sell when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Romo never led the league in passing yards or touchdowns, but did throw a league-high 19 interceptions in 2012. He did lead the league with a 113.2 passer rating in 2014, when the Cowboys went 12-4 and won the NFC East.
But that leads to strike three and the most damning to Romo’s chances at one day being enshrined in Canton — lack of postseason success.
The Cowboys reached the playoffs just four times during Romo’s time as the team’s starting quarterback. Dallas went 2-4 in those four postseason appearances and never once reached the Super Bowl, or even the NFC championship game.
It’s a team game and there are several Hall of Fame quarterbacks to never win the Super Bowl — Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton. But Romo’s career is perhaps best compared to former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, another fringe Hall of Fame player who is unlikely to get elected.
McNabb got the Eagles to the NFC title game five times, but only got his team to the Super Bowl after they acquired a Hall of Fame-caliber receiver in Terrell Owens. The Eagles lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
That 2004 season saw McNabb throw 31 touchdowns, the only year in which he threw more than 30 touchdowns in a season. Romo had four 30-touchdown seasons, including a personal-best 36 in 2007.
Romo may be the Cowboys’ record-holder for most passing statistics, but Aikman and Staubach did something Romo was never able to do: win championships.
Romo will be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame in five years, when he’s first eligible, and his new job at CBS Sports will give him the platform to state his case — as Warner and former Broncos running back Terrell Davis did at NFL Network. But it will be difficult for most voters to move past the lack of team success and that he was never considered to be the NFL’s best quarterback at any point in his career.