This is a big year for Tony Romo. He has one playoff victory in 4 1/2 seasons as the Cowboys' starting quarterback, and he missed 10 games in 2010 with a broken clavicle.
Romo, who has three years left on his contract, paying him $9 million in 2011, $9 million in 2012 and $11.5 million in 2013, needs to prove he is the team's quarterback of the future as well as the present.
Romo is one of the team's players who could use the off-season to get back to work on his game. He has not practiced since October. Instead, he will have to work out without the supervision of the Cowboys' coaches.
"I haven't seen him in a couple of weeks," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters, including the Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill, in New Orleans for the NFL owners meetings. "But it seems like his collarbone has healed up. He is very active. Physically, he is better. Mentally, it was difficult for him once he had the injury. He loves to play. Initially, it was difficult. At some point, he settled in and said, 'This is what it is, and I have to make the best of it."
Romo, who turns 31 next month, had his best season in 2009 when he passed for 4,483 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Romo spends every off-season trying to work on some specific part of his game. He worked on his foot work last off-season, though he didn't have much time to implement changes before he was injured.
"I think he's gotten a lot better, and I think he can get a lot better," Garrett said. "One of the real good things about him is he understands that. He comes to work with that mindset of getting better individually, always looking for ways for us to get better as an offensive unit and as a football team. But the strides he's made in the last four years is significant. When you watch him play a few years ago, he did a lot of really good things. But I just think he's at a different level now as a quarterback. He'd be the first one to tell you that. We'll go back, for whatever reason, in a cut-up or watching tape from a few years back and he'll say, 'Hey, that's not me; I'm a different guy now.' And you can see that in his play."
Romo spent most of last season on the sideline, watching and helping his backups Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee. Romo fractured his left clavicle in the second quarter of the Cowboys' 41-35 loss to the Giants at Cowboys Stadium. Kitna, 38, went 4-5 in Romo's absence, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 2,365 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. McGee won his only start -- the season finale against the Eagles.
Garrett agreed that Romo learned from Kitna.
"I think you have to make it good," Garrett said. "Whenever you're in one of those situations, you have to make the best of it. You have to. From his standpoint, you look at it from a different perspective. He's been in it, in the forefront of this whole thing for the last 31/2 years and now that gets take away from you. So for him, I know it was hard initially. You go from being the starting quarterback to I'm not even playing; I'm not even dressing; I'm not practicing; all these things. It's like getting the rug pulled out from beneath you, but now you have to get your feet righted and say, 'What do I need to do?' I need to get my collarbone better first and foremost, stay engaged with the football team and learn and learn. And when you have a guy like Jon Kitna playing and you see how he goes about his business -- we're not asking Tony to be Jon Kitna -- but if you have your eyes and ears open, you can't help but learn from a guy like that who is a real professional."
-- Charean Williams