Going into mini-camp everyone thought the big story was the first appearance of Terrell Owens in a Cowboys uniform. The national press showed up in force to cover the story, but it turned out to be a non-story, unless you care about things that really matter, like the fact that Owens repeatedly torched the Cowboys secondary. Even Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones refused to comment on the enigmatic wide receiver. So while all of this was going on, another story was brewing at Valley Ranch that reached its crescendo on Sunday. The Greg Ellis Situation has reached an interesting point.
For background on what's going on with Ellis, just read the multitude of articles that were published this morning. Lenny P. at ESPN covers it here, the DMN article is here, and the DFW S-T weighs-in here. That's a lot of coverage. Back in January of this year, I wrote an article in which I argued that the Cowboys would pay Ellis' his roster bonus then trade him for players or picks before the draft. Even though that turned out wrong, it might've been the best strategy for the Cowboys. (I also said that Larry Allen would renegotiate his contract and stay a Cowboy - obviously wrong, but I did accurately predict the ouright release of La'Roi Glover). Back to the point, the Cowboys should've just saved themselves this headache by trading Ellis.
Bill Parcells has taken to couching Ellis' continued presence as a Cowboy in terms of Ellis being one of two pressure players the Cowboys have on defense - the other obviously being DeMarcus Ware. I agree that Ellis has been the Cowboys best pass-rusher since the departure of Charles Haley, but his numbers aren't exactly overwhelming. In eight seasons he has 52 sacks which equates to 6.5 sacks per year. In addition, he's never had double-digit sacks in any season. What he has been is a model of consistency for a unit that has been very poor in applying pressure to opposing QB's. His last three year's he's produced 8, 9, and 8 sacks. That's good production, but will it continue and if it doesn't, is it worth the headache?
Putting Greg Ellis in the same sentence as "a problem" for the Cowboys would've been unthinkable before this offseason. But make no mistake, the usually accessible and affable Ellis is not happy with the current state of things. After spending the recent weeks not talking to the media he finally came forward on Sunday and discussed the situation. What he had to say wasn't encouraging. Yes, he made the point to say that he wouldn't be a distraction and would always do what's best for the team, but at the same time he compares himself to a "guinea pig" and is asking for a new contract without really asking. The fact that Bill Parcells felt compelled to go into such detail with the press about the Ellis Situation and describe how he would be used this year underscores the depth of the problem. Parcells tried his best to convince everyone that Ellis actually does fit in very well with the 3-4 defense, but Parcells actions of severely curtailing Ellis' playing time over the past year and turning over his starting job to a rookie makes that argument a tough sell. Ellis thinks so too, and after a contentious discussion with Parcells last week, he felt the need to express his displeasure in the media.
Where this is all headed is anybody's guess. Ellis has always been a team guy, one of the most reliable Cowboys both on and off the field. It makes his recent statements about his contract and the way he will be used on Sunday stick out even more. I concede that Ellis has a point; if the Cowboys try to employ him in a way that is uncomfortable for him and his effectiveness is compromised, then he has a problem. He's not getting any younger and the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Contracts in the NFL are year to year - nothing is guaranteed - so if the Cowboys are unhappy with Ellis' performance in his new role, or if they decide they've got the personnel to easily replace him, Ellis could find himself looking for a new job. But he will be doing that with advancing age and the perception that he didn't produce in Dallas in 2006. Never a good combination for free agents.
Let's hope this is much ado about nothing. Maybe Parcells can figure out a way to utilize Greg Ellis and get the most out of his talents in the 3-4 defense. It's not like Ellis will be abandoned to the bench anyway, he should get plenty of opportunites in the nickel defense and when the Cowboys switch to a 4-3 alignment.
But when a player makes statements like this:
"I hope it works out here," Ellis said. "Will it? I don't know. I am not trying to be a distraction. But it's hard to be committed to somebody if they are not committed to you. If we don't get anything done, it's probably best for me to be gone at their discretion, trade me or release me."
There is definite cause for concern.