Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo read a prepared statement Tuesday saying his injury has been soul-crushing but that backup quarterback Dak Prescott has earned the right to remain the starter.
Romo, the longtime starter for the Cowboys, has been relegated to a backup role after his fourth back injury in four years sidelined him in the preseason.
Romo was reflective in a Tuesday news conference, recalling the early days of his career when he was an undrafted free agent fighting to stay on the roster. Now he's the franchise leader in passing yards and touchdowns, ahead of Super Bowl winners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.
But he's also in the same place Drew Bledsoe was in 2006 when Romo replaced an ineffective Bledsoe at halftime of a loss to the New York Giants six games into the season and never gave up the starting job.
Now able to return to action, team officials have said quarterback Dak Prescott will retain the starting position after leading the team to an NFL best 8-1 record.
The only loss in Prescott's short NFL career was the season opener against the Giants — in that contest the Cowboys lost 20-19. Since that time, the Cowboys have won every game by an average of 11 points.
"I think it's, for multiple reasons, I think it's in the best interest of our team. We'll leave it at that.
So, I'm just going to read this. Hopefully you can just stay with me and I don't think it'll be too long, but I think it does capture the essence a little bit of what your mindset is throughout all this, and the football team, in this situation.
So, here we go.
To say the first half of this season has been emotional would be a huge understatement. Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you've ever had was a soul-crushing moment for me.
Then to learn it's not three or four weeks, but 10, is another blow.
And through it all you have a tremendous amount of guilt on having let your teammates, fans and organization down. After all, they were depending on you to bring them a championship. That's what quarterbacks are supposed to do. That's how we're judged.
I loved that. I still do.
But then, here you are, sidelined without any real ability to help your teammates win on the field. That's when you're forced to come face-to-face with what's happening.
Seasons are fleeting, games become more precious, chances for success diminish — Your potential successor has arrived.
Injured two years in-a-row and now in the mid 30s; The press is whispering, everyone has doubts. You spent your career working to get here. Now we have to start all over.
You almost feel like an outsider. Coaches are sympathetic, but they still have to coach and you're not there. It's a dark place. Probably the darkest it's ever been. You're sad and down and out, you ask yourself, 'Why did this have to happen?'
It's in this moment that you find out who you really are and what you're really about.
You see football is a meritocracy. You aren't handed anything. You earn everything, every single day. Over and over again, you have to prove it. That's the way that the NFL, that's the way that football works.
A great example of this is Dak Prescott and what he's done. He's earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say, he's earned that right. He's guided our team to an 8-1 record and that's hard to do.
If you think for a second that I don't want to be out there, then you've probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning. That hasn't left me, in fact it may burn now more than ever.
It's not always easy to watch. I think anybody whose been in this position understands that. But what is clear is that I was that kid once, stepping in, having to prove yourself. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday.
It really is an incredible time in your life. If I remember one thing from back then, it's the people that helped me along when I was young. If I can be that to Dak, you know, I've tried to be, and I will be going forward.
I think you all know something magical is happening to our team. I'm not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak by becoming a constant distraction. I think Dak knows that I have his back and I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately it's about the team. That's what we've preached our entire lives.
I can remember when I was a kid just starting out and wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself, for every high school kid out there, or college player, there's greatness in being the kind of teammate who truly wants to be part of a team. Everyone wants to be the reason they're winning or losing, every single one of us wants to be that person. But there are special moments that come from a shared commitment, to play a role, while doing it together.
That's what you remember. Not your stats or your prestige, but the relationships and the achievement that you created through a group. It's hard to do but there's great joy in that -- all the while your desire burns to be the best you've ever been.
You can be both. I've figured that out in this process. It's what separates sports from everything else. It's why we love it, it's why we trust it. It's why I still want to play and compete.
Lastly, I just want to leave you with something I've learned in this process as well. You know, I feel like we have two battles, or two enemies, going on. One with the man across from you, the second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn't matter. I think that's what we're all trying to do.
Thank you, guys — appreciate it.
The mood was more jovial earlier in the day when owner and general manager Jerry Jones made one of his weekly radio appearances.
"I paid a lot of money for a backup quarterback as you well know," Jones said, referring to Kyle Orton's $3 million salary as Romo's backup several years ago. "And this, by the way, is going to be the record for having paid this for a backup quarterback."
Romo signed the first $100 million contract in franchise history in 2013 and counts $20.8 million against the salary cap this season. The cap hit next year is nearly $25 million, but the Cowboys can reduce it by roughly $5 million if they release him.
On Sunday, the Cowboys face the 5-4 Ravens at noon in Baltimore.