SENDING MIXED MESSAGES BAD LOOK FOR COWBOYS
Actions don’t mesh with words coming from Jones and Co.
OXNARD, CALIF. While devouring a ham sandwich (seriously) last week in his suite at the hotel where the Dallas Cowboys are staging training camp, Jerry Jones paused to get a glance at the image on a TV screen. He stopped to watch himself. Earlier that day, after the Lucky Whitehead fiasco that made the Cowboys appear so cruel for cutting a wide receiver who was misidentified by police in a shoplifting arrest, Jones delivered a passionate statement about his empathy for players.
Jones, criticized over the years for backing players to a fault, beamed as he saw the replay.
Yet his drop-the-mic moment hardly made up for the image hit the franchise took for its handling of Whitehead. It was like Whitehead took it on the chin as a suddenly tough response for so many other off-the-field embarrassments that keep popping up with the Cowboys.
“Somebody might say, ‘You might have had a little sensitivity in all of that,’ ” Jones told USA TODAY Sports, trying to explain why the team didn’t give Whitehead his job back after police in Prince William County, Va., admitted the mistake. “But the basis of making a decision oftentimes is highlighted by some kind of thing relative to the individual.”
Jones wouldn’t elaborate, but one plot line circulating in Cowboys camp was that Whitehead had a series of off-the-field episodes that concerned the team.
What’s also relative, though, is that Whitehead isn’t the talent that, say, reigning NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott embodies. But in Whitehead’s case, Dallas apparently drafted his replacement as the punt returner with the selection of Ryan Switzer.
It’s just that, when pressed to explain why the Cowboys were moving on from Whitehead, coach Jason Garrett came off as rather condescending in repeating his “best interest of the team” reply. That’s the same Garrett, hailed in 2016 as NFL Coach of the Year, who often preaches about standards and accountability. Suddenly, he couldn’t go beyond the company line. Bad look.
Then Friday, another suspension. This time — amid anticipation that the NFL would announce a decision on whether Elliott will be suspended after being under investigation in regard to the domestic violence policy — it was Damontre Moore. The defensive end was suspended for two games for violating the substance abuse policy.
Moore is the fourth Cowboys player (including since-released receiver Shaquelle Evans) to draw an NFL suspension this year. The Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl in more than two decades, but they surely lead the NFL in suspensions again.
Bungling the Whitehead release is one thing. The pattern in play with the suspensions represents an even bigger stain. According to an analysis by The Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys have had an NFL-high 15 suspensions since 2014. And the 100 games lost from suspensions are nearly double the next-highest total during that span.
Imagine the energy, resources and adjustments in dealing with this. The tally could rise this year, given the Elliott investigation, Nolan Carroll’s DUI arrest and aggravated assault charges facing linebacker Damien Wilson.
Still, Jones insists there is no philosophical shift regarding how the Cowboys will conduct business. “I don’t want to in any way create an appearance of tolerance or dismissing the gravity of it. But we’ve had great players that we’ve worked with who were available, that had you not helped them through challenges they wouldn’t have been available. So it works both ways. My assessment is that we’re ahead in that area.”
In the meantime, the franchise’s image is reeling from the drama.
“I’ve had that concern several times in 29 years,” Jones said, “but I’ve never thought it’s impacted the games we’ve won or the play on the field.” That’s highly debatable. “Anybody knows that availability with good players being on the field can impact it,” he said. “You can say, ‘Wouldn’t you have played better in some of those years?’ Well, we’ve won big with some controversy around the team.”
The Cowboys haven’t won big, at least not when considering the ultimate prize, since capturing the Super Bowl XXX crown following the 1995 season. In fact, coming off a franchise-record-tying 13 victories last season, they are hoping to post double-figure wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1995-96.
No, the consistency hasn’t been there. Maybe the Cowboys’ logic doesn’t add up anymore.
Ezekiel Elliott could be the next Cowboy to be disciplined.