According to Sports Illustrated's Don Banks and many other league insiders we may have almost certainly seen the last of Terrell Owens in a Dallas Cowboy uniform. It is not my intent to argue for or against the move because the men making the decision are a lot closer to the situation than you or I. Though it is likely Terrell Owens is a contributor to poor clubhouse chemistry, it would be foolish however to think that removing Terrell Owens from the Cowboys locker room would cure all ills. This team has deeper, more complex issues, and before he sends his 2009 squad into battle without it‘s top scoreboard-changer, Jerry Jones had better be sure of a few things.
Be sure that you have not been fooled, Mr. Jones. The current debate over whether or not to retain Terrell Owens is very much a real one. What Jerry Jones cannot do is make a decision based on anything other than the findings of the guys closest to the situation. This is the time for Jerry to listen to his front office, his coaches, and his players. Jerry cannot allow the Terrell Owens lynch-mob to have any effect on this situation. The Cris Carter's and Peter King's of the world do not have the Cowboys best interest in mind. Jerry Jones has never been the type to allow anyone to tell him what is best for him or his team. Still, he may feel that Terrell Owens would take the media circus out the door with him, and letting him go would be worth it just to get the carnival to stop. If Jerry Jones confers with his front office and coaching staff, and decides that moving Terrell Owens is the best thing for this team, then he most definitely should do it. However, this critical decision must not be altered in any way, shape, or form by exterior forces.
Be sure that your locker room is completely clean, Mr. Jones. Releasing Pacman Jones was the first step towards healing a fractured locker room. Declining to retain Tank Johnson should probably be second. If Terrell Owens is also moved, the spring cleaning can not stop there. If this team truly wants to rework its team chemistry, it can not stop after getting rid of the players that the media has deemed problematic. Oh no, the Cowboys have got to vacuum under the couch, dust the blades on the ceiling fan, and pull all of the weeds. If you are going to get rid of problematic guys, then get rid of perennial malcontents like Greg Ellis, who will almost certainly find something else to whine about this off season. Get rid of excuse makers like Roy L. Williams, and strap a muzzle on Martellus Bennett before he does something really stupid. This team has also got to locate and exterminate the rat or rats otherwise known as "sources close to the team." The Cowboys' chemistry issues are too complex to be resolved by releasing one or two players. To remedy this situation the Cowboys have got to examine the construction of their locker room from the ground up. Guys have to hold themselves accountable, and if so many players are so easily distracted, maybe the front office needs to rethink the way they evaluate the guys they are bringing in.
Be sure about Roy E. Williams, Mr. Jones. Jerry Jones made the mid-season deal to acquire then Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy E. Williams with the idea of Williams some day becoming the teams featured receiver. Well Roy, if T.O. is gone its lights, camera, action buddy. I hope you are ready for your close-up. Granted, last season Williams was shoehorned into an offense in Week 7, and he also battled a foot injury for most of the season. Still, how can anyone be confident that this guy can be a lead-dog for this offense? Five years into his NFL career, Williams has eclipsed 1,000 yard receiving just once. He did play for a dysfunctional Detroit franchise, catching passes from the likes of Joey Harrington and John Kitna. That excuse would carry some validity if we did not all just witness Calvin Johnson, wearing that same uniform, work magic with Daunte Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky. Save for one aberration in 2006, Roy E. Williams has never proven himself to be a #1 option. With questions now swirling about his work ethic, it has to be questioned if his on-field play will ever match his physical ability and potential.
This offense can succeed without Terrell Owens, but it will take a complete re-tooling of and newfound dedication to the running game. It will take some improvement from Williams, and a quantum leap by Miles Austin. Austin has shown flashes (when healthy), but it is hard to believe that the sum of Williams and Austin can somehow be equal to or greater than the sum of Owens and Williams. Either way, this offense will surely not improve without better consistency and decision making from its signal caller.
Be sure about your quarterback, Mr. Jones. For quite some time, the hypothesis has been presented that Tony Romo's play would improve if he did not feel pressured to pacify Owens by forcing him the football. Many believe that Owens' absence would allow Romo to work within the framework of the offense, progress through his reads, and just allow things to happen. If the Cowboys were to subtract T.O. from the equation, the pressure would trickle down, directly onto the shoulders of #9. Given his past few Decembers, would it be wise to assume that Tony Romo can handle an entire season of pressure?
Terrell Owens is what I like to call a "touchdown right now guy." No matter where you are on the field, it is possible that Terrell Owens can get you a touchdown right now. Miles Austin can be that way at times, but removing T.O. really leaves Felix Jones as the teams only source of instant offense. This has a dramatic effect on Romo. Without his top deep threat, Romo will be forced to matriculate the ball down the field and just take what he is give more often. Romo is an improviser, and when plays have turned into street ball in the past, Terrell Owens has been his best friend. Big plays are more important than most want to believe. Nothing busts you out of a 3-3 grunt fest like a skinny post that goes for a 60-yard touchdown. With the team's big play ability greatly compromised, it will be interesting to see if Tony Romo can consistently put together long drives.
Be sure about your staff, Mr. Jones. Question: If Terrell Owens is gone, will guys start showing up on time for meetings? Will Tony Romo stop fumbling? Will the offensive line be more cohesive? Will Flozell stop jumping early? Will Ken Hamlin start wrapping up? All of the aforementioned points are coachable problems. The coaching staff for the most part is still in place, so why should we believe that any of those things would change? I'm not saying that Wade Phillips has lost the locker room, but if the reports are true about the lackadaisical demeanor of the players around Valley Ranch, then he definitely doesn't have anybody walking on egg shells.
In my opinion the real question here is Jason Garrett. You know when you are a kid, and your uncle keeps you at bay by putting his hand on your head while you swing wildly? That is what it was like watching Garrett try to match wits with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson in Week 17. The same could have been said the previous week against Rex Ryan, or in Week 14 against Dick LeBeau. Granted these are some of the games all-time greats, matched up against a sophomore coordinator. One would have to believe that Garrett will learn from those experiences and improve, but his play calling may not be biggest reason for concern.
Given some of the comments by Cowboys players in regards to Garrett, it's hard to believe that they have any faith in him. Of course Terrell Owens' comments about not being used properly have been well documented. Roy E. Williams echoed the same sentiments in an interview during Super Bowl week. Tony Romo said that the Cowboys "didn't figure (the Ravens) out" until midway through the third quarter, and said that the Eagles "exposed" them fundamentally. Anytime your franchise quarterback uses the term "exposed," it is an indirect callout to the offensive coordinator. Of all of the comments made by players concerning Garrett, there is one that is more disturbing than most. In an ESPN interview Patrick Crayton was asked about the relationship between Terrell Owens and Jason Garrett he had this to say:
"Terrell is not one of those guys who is going to bite his tongue. And if you're not going to be straightforward with him, then there is not going to be a respect there."
The line that disturbs me is "if you're not going to be straightforward." Is Garrett not being straightforward with T.O. or others? If that is the case, then let's all look to the most recent example of what happens when you are dishonest with your players. After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Jon Gruden, many players cited Gruden's dishonesty as the reason he eventually lost the locker room. Now, we all have to take Crayton's words with a grain of salt, because Owens has him in is back pocket. He has sort of become T.O.'s new Freddie Mitchell. Still, if Garrett isn't shooting these guys straight, then he may be a part of the mutiny in the locker room. Either way it is clear that there is at least some question as to how much the players believe in him. In addition to the very vocal skill players, it is hard to imagine that the offensive line has a lot of confidence in Garrett after being twisted, slanted, pinched, and angled to death all season.
Terrell Owens is undoubtedly a part of the problem in Dallas, but he is not the problem. If Jerry Jones wants to fix things for the Cowboys, he has got to be thorough. If moving Terrell Owens makes sense, then so be it, but the cleansing can not stop there. Jerry has got to investigate this organization top to bottom, including himself. Mr. Jones should not, and absolutely can not allow the media to pressure him into parting ways with his most lethal offensive weapon. If President Jones and his cabinet decide to move Terrell Owens, there will still be plenty of work to do.