What in the world do the Houston Texans do now?
The prevailing sentiment around the NFL pegged Romo as the Texans' savior. Unloading Brock Osweiler's blunder of a contract was phase one. Phase two seemed like a formality of waiting for Romo's release. Houston wasn't going to trade any assets to obtain Romo and his contract, but would have welcomed the veteran quarterback with open arms had he been cut by the Dallas Cowboys.
Now that Romo apparently has decided to trade his pads for a broadcast mic, Bill O'Brien might be up a creek without a proven paddle.
The best Texans-related response to the Romo news comes from our friends over at NFL France:
For those of you not fluent, that reads: "Rest in peace Houston Texans." (Shots fired from France!)
It's easy to understand the sentiment that Houston is screwed.
The Denver Broncos, the other team connected to Romo rumors, at least has Trevor Siemian, who has proven to be solid when he gets protection. Broncos general amanager John Elway also has former first-round pick Paxton Lynch to groom for the future.
The Texans meanwhile move forward with oft-injured Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden at quarterback. The draft lacks in ready-to-play talent at quarterback, which could lead Houston to reach to find a signal-caller (and needing to trade up to get him). Ask the Titans, Jaguars and Vikings how that went reaching for Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder in 2011 (while the Texans had J.J. Watt fall in their lap).
Savage enters the spring as a starter to be pushed by whatever rookie the Texans bring to Houston. The 26-year-old gunslinger has spent four seasons in O'Brien's system and knows it better than any other quarterback. He's got a bigger arm than Osweiler, which opened up outside routes the Texans couldn't hit much of last season. Savage has some physical tools, but at this stage he still displays a lack of experience in reading defenses. Availability might be his biggest issue. A shoulder injury wiped out his entire 2015 season and he sat out last year's playoff contests with a concussion.
O'Brien will surely stump for Savage this offseason. Remember, this is a coach who during Hard Knocks famously railed against the media for bashing Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer, vociferously declaring "both those kids can play." The chuckles are still reverberating out of Houston after that display of chutzpah.
O'Brien already began his Savage campaign, noting last week at the Annual League Meeting that he was "excited" about his current quarterbacks.
O'Brien is likely alone on that island in Houston. Most fans are stewing as their get-out-of-jail free card chose to walk away from the NFL rather than join a team talented enough to dive deep in the playoffs if it gets adequate QB play.
Maybe the dream isn't over? Perhaps the Romo news caused Texans GM Rick Smith to break out in a cold sweat, hastily call the Cowboys and beg them to convince the QB to reconsider. Speculatively speaking, maybe this is all a ploy to get Houston to trade something for Romo and pay his current contract? Probably not, but desperate times could call for desperate measures.
Barring any change of heart -- which seems doubtful considering he knew the Texans job was sitting there for him the whole time -- Houston will continue its franchise-long search for a quarterback (reminder: Sage Rosenfels sits No. 3 in team history in passing yards).
The Texans didn't want to jump on the Jay Cutler train before Romo retired. Cutler is likely the best option, but O'Brien's reticence to bring the killjoy quarterback into the locker room could linger. Given owner Bob McNair's political leanings, Colin Kaepernick doesn't seem like a logical connection. Veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick started 12 games for O'Brien in 2014 with decent results (17-8 TD-INT ratio on a career-high 63.1 completion percentage and longest YPA at 8.0) and could be the best bridge option available behind Savage. It's sad but true to say Fitzpatrick has been O'Brien's best quarterback in Houston.
This all brings us back to the main question: What in the name of Mother Mary will the Texans do now?
It's a question that is sure to catch fire ahead of the draft and deep into the summer. If Houston can't find an upgrade and Savage falters, sinking a ready-made playoff team, the catcalls for O'Brien's job will become louder.
My only piece of advice for Houston fans grappling with the 'what now?' question: Pray.