There has been plenty of talk about where Tony Romo might end up next season–here are five potential spots that make sense–but less discussion of whether he is worth the risk.
Teams that want to win now are willing to take the risk that Romo will crumble again, because he has yet to show signs of decline when he is actually playing. Still, playing in only five games in the last two years, and turning 37, makes him far from a sure thing. What are the most similar examples to Romo from the past?
No case is exactly like this one, but we can see what has happened when teams have brought in an aging veteran who made his name as the franchise quarterback for another team. All quarterbacks on this list went from the team they had played with for at least eight years, to another team, at age 34 or older. These are the closest in age, recent history, and career performance at the time of the move.
JOE MONTANA TO KANSAS CITY, 1993
Like Romo, Montana was replaced by a younger version, had potentially career-altering injuries that were a concern, and did not start for most of two consecutive seasons. He was also 37 years old when he went to Kansas City.
Montana made the pro bowl his first season in Kansas City, and the Chiefs reached the AFC title game (the last for the franchise). He had some good moments the next year as well–the Monday night win in Denver was the second season–and Kansas City reached the playoffs, losing in the wildcard. Montana retired after two years.
PEYTON MANNING TO DENVER, 2012
Manning, of course, missed an entire season at age 35 because of neck surgery, and then the Colts fell all the way to the first overall pick and drafted Andrew Luck. Manning signed with Denver and put up three great seasons before falling apart at age 39. He won Comeback Player of the Year in 2012 and MVP in 2013 and appeared in two Super Bowls.
Y.A. TITTLE TO NY GIANTS, 1961
Tittle injured his knee in 1960 with San Francisco, and the team went to the a new-fangled shotgun formation with John Brodie at QB. Tittle was considered washed up. He was traded to the Giants the next preseason at age 35, and went on to win MVP in 1963 and lead the Giants to the title game in three straight seasons.
WARREN MOON TO MINNESOTA
Moon missed six starts in two seasons in Houston, at ages 36 and 37, as the team reached the postseason but came up short in consecutive heartbreaking losses. In April of 1994, the Oilers traded Moon to the Vikings for mid-round picks. Moon started for 3 years in Minnesota (and then two more in Seattle at age 41 and 42). The Vikings made the playoffs two of the three seasons but failed to advance out of the wildcard round.
MATT HASSELBECK TO TENNESSEE
Hasselbeck went to Tennessee as a veteran bridge to Jake Locker at age 36. Of course, Hasselbeck had multiple seasons where the Seahawks’ passing offense was below average with him as the starter, and was healthy.
MARK BRUNELL TO WASHINGTON
Brunell got benched in favor of Byron Leftwich, the franchise quarterback of the future in Jacksonville, at age 33, and went to Washington where he initially backed up Patrick Ramsey.
Burnell started 33 games over three seasons, and led the team to the postseason in 2005, at age 35.
BRETT FAVRE TO NY JETS
Brett Favre never missed games with the Packers, but retired only to want his job back at age 39. He came back, but it was too late as the team (correctly) moved on to Aaron Rodgers. Favre spent one year with the Jets that got off to a great start, before falling apart. He then moved to the Vikings and reached the NFC title game in his first year in Minnesota, before hitting an injury and effectiveness wall the next season at 41.
You can see why teams are willing to take the risk. There are others who don’t appear here who were younger and declining and suffering from injuries (Namath to the Rams a prominent example, at age 34). And you may question Romo being included with a group that has five Hall of Famers. By his efficiency stats, though, Romo deserves to be considered. He hasn’t played a season where he started at least eight games and was below average in pass efficiency. He’s led the league in yards per attempt twice and been above 8 yards per attempt five times.
Is he a good risk? There’s no guarantee he holds up. But other top passers who moved on have rebounded fairly well in the short term. They turned in above average seasons over two-thirds of the time, and elite ones nearly a third of the time. Over half reached a title game with the new team. Realistic expectation is two good seasons, but for a team that needs to win now, it’s probably a risk worth taking.