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Houston Has a Problem
Romo Retirement Hurts Texans Most

Early this year when it became clear the Dallas Cowboys weren’t going to keep Tony Romo around as the highest-paid backup quarterback in NFL history, BetOnline released an NFL prop for where Romo would be playing in 2017. The Denver Broncos were +250 opening favorites and the Houston Texans second at +400. What wasn’t an option: no team.

Barring a shocking change of heart, Romo’s NFL playing career is over and his broadcasting career just beginning. The all-time leading passer in Cowboys history has decided to walk away from the game because of his health and to spend more time with his young family. It also didn’t hurt that CBS offered him millions of dollars a year and the No. 1 NFL analyst gig alongside Jim Nantz.

So Romo jumped at the chance to stay involved in the game without risking permanent physical damage. He left the door slightly ajar for a return, but it’s hard to imagine CBS would take such a huge leap of faith, not to mention booting Phil Simms from the No. 1 job, if Romo didn’t assure the network he was done playing.

The biggest losers here are clearly the Texans, who are currently +1600 on BetOnline NFL futures to win Super Bowl LII. Houston had cleared the deck for Romo by trading last year’s primary starter, free-agent bust Brock Osweiler, to Cleveland in an unprecedented salary dump. Houston gave Cleveland a 2018 second-round pick just to take on that big salary. It’s the type of trade seem often in the NBA but never before in the NFL.

Ridding themselves of Osweiler’s salary-cap hold figured to give Houston the advantage over Denver of signing Romo once the Cowboys released him. While the Broncos are still fine at quarterback with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, now the Texans have inexperienced Tom Savage and journeyman backup Brandon Weeden.

Sure, Coach Bill O’Brien sings Savage’s praises. In three games last season, including two starts, Savage showed coach O'Brien enough for him to believe Savage can be a legitimate NFL starter. I’m not sure what the Texans saw as Savage completed 46 of 73 for 461 yards, no TDs and no picks for a rating of 80.9. Osweiler, as terrible as he was, had a rating of 86.4.

Savage also hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. As a rookie in 2014, he got a chance to play late in the season but injured his knee and missed two games. He injured a shoulder in the final preseason game of 2015 and landed on injured reserve. After taking over for Osweiler late last season, Savage suffered a concussion in the regular-season finale vs. Tennessee and didn’t play in the postseason.

Houston has the talent everywhere but QB to reach the Super Bowl, although getting past the absolutely loaded Patriots will be quite a challenge unless Tom Brady gets injured. The Texans had the NFL’s No. 1 total defense last year despite having the league’s best defender, J.J. Watt, for only three early games. Watt should be 100 percent in 2017. Houston also has some good offensive talent in running back Lamar Miller and receiver DeAndre Hopkins. A good quarterback is all that’s needed.

What are Houston’s options to at least compete with Savage? The top names left on the free-agent market are Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick. Both have their warts. Cutler still has one of the NFL’s strongest arms but is a poor decision-maker and not considered a leader. Kaepernick remains one of the league’s best running QBs but frankly can’t throw well. Then there’s the whole political angle with him.

The Texans could draft a quarterback with their No. 25 overall pick, but no signal-caller in this class is considered a franchise-type player and none are thought to be ready to play as a rookie. The top guys like Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky and DeShone Kizer likely will be gone by 25.

Houston, you have a problem.

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