Using their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys showed their confidence in quarterback Tony Romo by choosing offensive guard Zack Martin of Notre Dame and passing on Johnny Football. This ended speculation that the ‘Boys would find a way to get A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel because Romo sustained a season-ending back injury last season. A few picks later, Manziel was chosen by the Cleveland Browns.
Football fans either love or hate the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe this is due to the team’s past success, its high-profile owner, its otherworldly stadium (“Jerry World”) or its long-time title as “America’s Team.” For whatever reasons, there is something about being a member of the Dallas Cowboys that magnifies every coach’s decision, player performance or injury. Such was the case when the team’s quarterback, Tony Romo experienced his back injury last year.
In a physically challenging game such as professional football, the age of players is always a concern of management. Romo is 34 years old. While this doesn’t sound old to most of us, the number of hits his body has taken over the years he has participated in the sport – from Pop Warner to NFL – means he is definitely approaching mature status in his chosen occupation.
There are, however, two other NFL quarterbacks who are older than Romo and still playing at championship levels. Peyton Manning (Denver) is 38 years old and Tom Brady (New England) is 36 years old. Both are expected to have outstanding seasons in 2014.
Tony Romo’s Prognosis is Tricky to Determine
We talked with Texas Back Institute spine surgeon and avid sports fan, Dr. Rey Bosita about the challenges Tony Romo might be facing in the coming season. As someone who has successfully treated many back injuries, Dr. Bosita brings a knowledge base beyond the scope of most sports fans and has several insights about the injury and its long-term effect.
“He had a herniated lumbar disc that caused severe pain, said Dr. Bosita. “His case was especially difficult because he had previous lumbar surgery just a few months before.”
While he was not the treating physician, Dr. Bosita reviewed the press accounts of the injury and had some thoughts about the potential for this injury to end Romo’s career.
“We will know about Tony’s back once the pre-season starts,” he said. “Back injuries can affect almost every aspect of a quarterback's job, including his ability to scramble to buy time, throw on the run, and absorb the weekly punishment from people like Demarcus Ware who are trying to kill him!”
Age and injuries have serious impact on the strength or weakness of a disc. The big question for the Cowboy management was: After having this type of injury and undergoing rehab, is the disc likely to be weaker or stronger in the coming years? In other words, will he be more or less likely to have this injury again?
“Unfortunately, discs always get weaker and degeneration is one way street,” Dr. Bosita notes. “Rehab will be very important or him to build up the core abdominal and spinal muscle tone to protect the weakened disk.”
He continued, “The Cowboy training staff should be closely watching his pain, strength, and endurance during the pre-season workout and training camp. I am sure that all of Dallas will be holding its breath when he takes the first few big hits of the season. Hopefully he will recover enough to play the whole season week in and week out and lead Dallas to the Super Bowl
What Should the Cowboys Have Done?
The primary assets of any professional sports team are its players. Teams have invested millions of dollars on these individuals and getting a return of this investment is far from certain. This makes accurate player personnel evaluation critical to the financial success of the organization.
We asked Dr. Bosita to apply his knowledge of this type of injury and assume the position of team medical advisor. Knowing what he knows about the injury, how would Dr. Bosita advised the Cowboys with regard to Tony Romo – trade him or keep him?
“The value of a player in a trade is always difficult to assess, especially when he has been injured,” noted Dr. Bosita.
“Tony has also been the face of the franchise for many years and the whole offense is centered on him,” he said. “Trading him at this point would be very difficult in my opinion, especially because other teams would not be willing to give full value for a QB who has had 2 back surgeries. Hopefully he just bounces back and leads the Cowboys to 12 wins and the playoffs like we all want.”
“I’m personally pleased that the Cowboy didn’t choose a quarterback in the first round. They have some very good players and should build on this. They are using the draft to fill in some gaps left by departed players like Ware and building the depth needed for a strong playoff run late in the season when fatigue and injury can become big factors.”