In the opinion of most people who play fantasy football, Tony
Romo is a rock solid quarterback whose passer rating stays consistently
in the 90s or higher. FFers know there's a lot of turnover in the
top ten players at any one NFL position from one season to the next,
but Romo is routinely a top 10 QB in terms of statistical productivity.
Better yet, since he doesn't get the kind of widespread adulation
that fans heap on Peyton
Brees, or Aaron
Rodgers, he can often be picked up more cheaply in fantasy drafts
than the more celebrated QBs who perform at (or perhaps only slightly
above) his level.
In the opinion of most Cowboy fans, Romo is a bum with absolutely
no competitive drive, no heart, no sense of leadership, and no capacity
for igniting the emotional fire his teammates might need to burn
their way through adversity. He is a soulless, flat, empty, money-grubbing
fraud whose eyes go distant and cold whenever an offensive drive
hits a snag. Cowboy fans know that Romo is capable of playing well
enough to take Dallas to the playoffs, but they don't believe he
can win in the postseason, and in his seven years as a starter,
he has proven them wrong a grand total of once.
Did fantasy football make Romo's wallet
Earlier this year, Romo signed a six-year contract extension for
over $100M with the Cowboys. Most NFL contracts include so many
contingency clauses that the numbers released to the press are essentially
meaningless, but Romo's extension includes $55M in guaranteed money.
In the history of the NFL, only one player (Brady, who signed a
contract for $57M in guaranteed money from the Patriots) has made
a sweeter deal with his team.
No one doubts that Brady is worth whatever the Patriots want to
pay him. He's a proven winner. Even if he doesn't win every Super
Bowl he plays in, he takes his team to the big game routinely.
Romo has never even participated in an NFC Championship--much less
a Super Bowl. One of the best known facts in the NFL right now is
that Romo has won only one out of the four playoff games in which
he appeared. Cowboy fans, however, are quick to add a lesser known
fact to bolster the case against their starting QB: On the three
occasions when the Cowboys needed a regular season win just to stay
in the playoff hunt, Romo choked every time.
When I talk about Romo with people who don't play fantasy football,
I generally encounter a sense of outrage concerning his new contract.
Most of the Cowboy fans I know think he is being ridiculously overcompensated.
Travis Johnson (a former defensive lineman for the Houston Texans)
has publicly labeled Romo a "thief" who "has not
earned a dollar he has been given in this league."
FFers, on the other hand, don't seem to find the $55M in guaranteed
money all that outrageous. Maybe this has something to do with the
fact that the playoffs in most fantasy football leagues occur during
the regular season, so the FF community was essentially unaffected
by Romo's meltdown against the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional
round of the playoffs after the 2009 season, when he took six sacks,
fumbled three times, threw an interception, and looked on with an
air of icy detachment as his Cowboys were trounced 34-3.
So here's the question that keeps raising
itself in my mind: In the absence of fantasy football, would Tony
Romo's new contract extension have been possible?
I know that must sound like a ridiculous question. Many owners,
coaches, and players in the NFL are famously contemptuous of fantasy
football. Surely a businessman as accomplished as Jerry Jones is
incapable of being influenced by such a frivolous fad when it comes
to negotiating a contract with his star quarterback.
But hear me out. Contract negotiations are more likely to be about
"perceived value" than "absolute value," and
even though Romo has some very vocal critics, I think it's fair
to say that in the absence of fantasy football, the perception of
him as one of the most consistently productive quarterbacks in the
NFL would not be nearly as widespread among casual NFL fans as is
currently the case. Twenty years ago, fantasy football wasn't very
popular. Twenty years ago, the stat that most NFL fans cared about
was wins vs. losses, especially playoff wins vs. playoff losses.
Twenty years ago, I don't think a quarterback with just one playoff
win after seven seasons as a starter could reasonably have expected
to become the second-highest paid player in the league. Perhaps
I'm mistaken, but I can't help suspecting that Romo's perceived
value to the Cowboys has somehow been enhanced by the fact that
there are currently hundreds of thousands of football fans around
the world who are far more interested in whether their quarterbacks
throw for 300+ yards in a particular game than in whether those
quarterbacks emerge victorious.
Even if you think I'm wrong about Romo, please give some thought
to what I mean by "the Romo effect," which is the idea that fantasy
football has become sufficiently widespread and sufficiently integrated
into mainstream sports culture to have a serious impact on the expectations
of owners and the contract negotiations of real NFL players. If
you think I'm completely off base, please
tell me why. If you think there may be something to the general
idea, but can point to better examples than Romo for us to study,
please tell me which players you have in mind. If you think I'm
right, but that my case about Romo could be made stronger with additional
evidence, I'll be grateful for any thoughts you're willing to send
In the meantime, my wife (a lifelong Cowboys fan) will continue
to shout, "Dump the chump!" every time she sees a picture
of Romo. And I'll keep telling her, "If you played fantasy
football, you would realize how talented he really is." Am
I being ironic when I suggest that the clearest view of reality
can be obtained through the lens of fantasy? I'm not entirely sure.
* * * * *
Before I get into the responses I received to my columns in June
and July, I want to thank the readers who took the time to write
in, especially those who did so in
June and had to wait patiently for me to engage their comments
after I went off on a semi-tangent in
At last, it's my pleasure to share the three most thoughtful answers
that I received to my question concerning the kinds of strategies
that FFers use to filter through all the predictions that we encounter
during the offseason. Let's start with a reader named Max, who treated
me to this rollicking critique of the "Player X will run out
of gas in the season to come" tag that most of us have encountered
both online and in print:
I'm not talking about analysis where player
X's productivity tailed off last year, a new young stud has been
drafted, and the writing's on the wall. It's the "we've got a formula
about how many carries and injuries over how many years played"
that leads to poor predictions. A basic assumption in this type
of analysis is that all players have the same amount of gas in the
tank. My observation is that how long a player can produce at a
high level has a very large variation and a player's gas gauge is
beyond the event horizon, so predicting that player X who is playing
at a high level now will go into a tailspin has been more likely
to miss than hit the mark. What you can say is that on average players
lose productivity after years of being ridden hard, so these players
carry a risk that this might be their year to break down. To be
fair, more thoughtful writers often say just that. However, what
happens is that the hype turns into "Don't draft player X because
he's going to break down this year," and many [such players] end
up as great values on draft day.
Anyone with a soft spot for Isaac Asimov's treatment of psychohistory
(a key feature of his Foundation Trilogy) will probably
like Joel's mathematical/philosophical response to the question:
I generally hold that I can predict things
that have reasonably large past sample sizes. For example, I feel
fairly confident that the Lions will throw the ball in the area
of 650 times this season. I have years of observing the number of
plays the Lions run in a season under Jim Schwartz/Scott Linehan
and their run/pass ratio and there are no significant changes to
their roster to indicate that it would change. Also, I have a good
bit of data on Matt Stafford and his yds/attempt, td%, and int%,
so I have a fair amount of confidence of where his numbers will
be this season. Sure, he may improve or decline, but I know I'm
at least in the right neighborhood. Where I have a good dose of
humility is predicting things that are rare occurrences. Things
that happen on just a handful of plays or only a few times during
a year - things like injuries, fumbles lost, benchings, and potential
triple-homicidal New Englanders. Those things fall into the category
of "stuff happens," and if you try and predict it, you'll likely
end up looking stupid. The guy you knocked down your draft board
because you thought he would be injured (since he always has been
in the past) will stay healthy; and the guy who you considered the
gold-standard of health will blow out his knee. Fred Taylor was
"Fragile Freddy" for four years until he ripped off 6 mostly healthy
seasons. Stafford was "Stafford, if he stays healthy..." for his
first two years. Now, two healthy seasons later, no one is knocking
him down draft boards because of potential health issues.
I tend to make a lot of hay taking players
everyone else considers "health risks" (I owned a lot of Adrian
Peterson last year) because, if we're really honest, everyone
in the NFL is a health risk, and which ones will fall victim to
the injury bug is beyond our event horizon. But our own inability
to predict such things is completely destroyed the first time
we're bitten by drafting a guy who was perennially injured...who
gets injured. Then we foolishly swear such players off because
we have "learned our lesson." I chuckle every time I see a projection
that has a RB playing 12.5 games because he's expected to miss
about 3.5 games [due to injury]. Total silliness--as if that could
be predicted. The wrong lesson has been learned. The wrong lesson
is "don't draft guys who have been hurt in the past." The right
lesson to learn is "lots of guys get hurt in the NFL, including
some guys [in consecutive seasons], and that's where you can find
a heck of a lot of value over your competitors."
Michael wrote in with so many good points that I ended up focusing
on just one (his concluding salvo against handcuffs) in my July
column. However, I also wanted to include his thoughts about "change-of-pace"
One category I always shy away from is the
dreaded “change-of-pace back," [which is just] another way of
[talking about RBs who are] too small to take an every down pounding,
and will come on the field for third downs and/or limited touches.
You can have these guys; they won’t be on my team. Examples: Jacquizz
Bell, perhaps Giovani
Richardson, maybe Roy
Helu. The two guys that fit this bill but break the mold are
Bush (although his Saint time was brutal) and Sproles (now
with the Saints). Javid Best fit this as well. Sproles and Bush
will be good, but I can’t pull the lever on these guys even if
they slide to bargains vs. their ADP.
My thanks go out to everyone from the FFToday community who got
in touch with me over the summer. I don't have enough space to
include quotations from every person who writes in, but I make
an effort to represent every point of view. My next column will
appear just as we are all gearing up for the games of Week 1,
and I'm delighted to report that it will feature the always awesome
and entertaining Survivor Pool picks of Matthew Schiff. Until
then, good luck with your drafts everybody!
Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999.
As a landlocked Oklahoman who longs for the sound of ocean waves,
he also writes about ocean colonization under the pen name Studio
Dongo. The latest installment in his science fiction series can
be found here.