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The T.O. Chronicles: Smoke = Fire?

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This post isn't for everybody, only the sexy people. I kid. It's only for people who aren't consumed by the idea of a grand-conspiracy by the press to force the Dallas Cowboys to get rid of Terrell Owens. In the first place, I don't think the press has that kind of power, especially with Jerry Jones who pretty much does what he wants. Secondly, while I concede that there are certain members of the press who hate T.O. and will take every opportunity to trash him, they aren't core to the argument presented here. Why? Because given all their proclivities for hyperbole and ratings-grabbing, I am not one who thinks they just make up quotes, even anonymous ones.

Make the jump if you want to read more, I'm not forcing you to. ;-)

What I've learned over the past three years of blogging the Cowboys is that the old maxim of where there is smoke there is fire, is actually true. I come by that objectively because some of the smoke was in reference to things that I desperately didn't want to happen, but they happened anyway. The fire quickly followed the smoke. It also occasionally worked the other way, things I wanted to happen followed the same smoke/fire equation. All of that is a long-winded way of saying that the Cowboys are a housed-divided about the future of T.O. and that house appears to be Jerry Jones vs. the rest of Valley Ranch. Perhaps a bit over-simplistic but nothing I've read over the past 24 hours leads me to believe anything different.

If I haven't lost you already, and I'm sure some of the T.O. faithful are steaming right now, I'm sure this next sentence will cause a mass-defection. According to a story on ESPN by Ed Werder...aiyeee, there goes everybody over the side of the boat...everyone from the janitor to Stephen Jones is trying to convince Jerry Jones that T.O. must go.

The ever-present but ever-elusive anonymous Cowboys source said:

"I think we all know that chemistry is the problem with this team more than the schemes or anything else," a Cowboys source said. "Are we going to continue to allow talent to outweigh everything else in the decisions we make with players and putting the roster together? We're like the Redskins used to be when they signed every player they wanted. There's more to it than talent. It has to be more about the team.

"The big one [Owens] didn't get discussed yet, but I'm sure it will and real hard."

I can't say I disagree with that assessment, considering yesterday, before the story came out, I ranted about the way Jerry and Wade have lost control allowing the inmates to run the asylum and have made ‘talent' the only variable worth looking at in a player. My quote:

The Cowboys have lapsed into a world where the belief in pure talent has blinded them to the other aspects that make a team successful. They do this at their own peril and that peril has been realized repeatedly in their recent past.

Now, you can debate whether this anonymous source is somebody important with knowledge of the inner-circle of power out at Valley Ranch or a low-level flunky, the truth is something we will probably never know. But to me, this is the most important line in the whole Ed Werder article.

At least two sources believe that vice president Stephen Jones will attempt to convince his father that Owens should be finished with the Cowboys.

If you believe that, then you believe that it has gotten very serious at Valley Ranch. In my mind, the only person who has a chance of changing Jerry's mind about T.O. would be Stephen. If Stephen is truly trying to do that, then there is smoke and it might come to fire, as in fire T.O.

This piece is not about the merits of keeping T.O. or letting him go, just an acknowledgment that there really does seem to be serious discussion about it happening out at Valley Ranch. I've reached a point where I would be OK with either scenario because I am conflicted about the situation. Since I know that this article will begin the inevitable discussion on the merits of T.O. and his place on this team, I'll go ahead and give you my broad outline of the pros and cons.

On the pro side is the recognition that T.O. is a very talented WR who adds a dimension to the Cowboys offense not easily replaced. He causes defenses to account for him on every play and forces them to play a safety over the top. He is productive and he scores TD's. That is what you want from a #1 WR and he provides that. There's no debate over that for me.

On the con side is the fact that he is aging and there will come a day, when that day is I don't think anybody can accurately predict, when his skills will start to erode. He also doesn't have the greatest hands in the world but I think you can live with that. Of course, the elephant in the room that must be addressed is his off-the-field behavior. This is where it turns into a madhouse. While his behavior in Dallas has been pretty good and doesn't even come close to the disasters that happened at the end in San Fran or Philly, personally I can see signs of serious conflict on the way. That's my opinion, not the opinion of ESPN or other media or anybody else, that's just the way I see it and I won't back off that statement. If you don't believe that then you're entitled and I'm not going to say anything negative about your opinion.

Either way, whether he stays or goes, I still believe that the Cowboys must get control over the locker room, team chemistry if you like. Again, I say talent can't be the deciding factor right now because we have all the talent in the world on this roster and it hasn't worked. It's obvious there's a problem elsewhere. In my opinion, it's a team that has little common purpose and is at odds with itself.

Matt Mosley opines on the situation here. Also, Mike Lombardi, who I referenced yesterday in this post, has more commentary on the situation over at the DMN. He highlights a part of the story that hasn't gotten as much attention and that is the idea that the rift between T.O. and Jason Garrett has actually reached a "me or him" moment.

"They want some team chemistry. Jason Garrett has basically said, 'Its going to be TO or it's going to be me. I am out looking for a head coaching job. I may get one of those head coaching jobs, but I just really can't co-exist with TO. You are going to have to make a decision."

With Garrett still in the mix for the St. Louis job, this adds a whole new variable to the discussion. Is Jerry Jones at all influenced by keeping Garrett in the fold and would he actively try to do something to stop Garrett from leaving if offered the Rams job? Would that include getting rid of T.O.? At this point I have no idea. I'm not sure if Jerry knows for sure either.

And finally, to wrap it all up, there is the salary-cap issue with releasing T.O. The ever-dependable Todd Archer gives us the details in this article.

Last June, the Cowboys paid Owens a $12.9 million signing bonus as part of a four-year, $36 million contract. Should the Cowboys cut Owens, he would count $680,000 more against the '09 cap than the $8.99 million he is scheduled to count if he stays. And because this is the last capped season, the Cowboys cannot spread out the hit over two seasons like teams were able to do previously.

A corollary to the T.O. situation is the effect his release might have on the signing of DeMarcus Ware to a long-term contract. Jerry said this recently

When the season ended three weeks ago, owner Jerry Jones was almost immediately asked about the possibility of cutting loose a high-salary player. Jones said a move like releasing Terrell Owens was un-doable because the resulting cap hit would take away the possibility of a new deal for Ware.

On one level that's a straight-ahead quote about keeping T.O. and that DeMarcus Ware is the highest-priority for the Cowboys in terms of getting players signed. But I read something else into it. I don't know if I'm correct but if Jerry Jones was absolutely steadfast on the idea of keeping T.O., I don't think he would couch the discussion of his remaining on the team with the idea that he has to keep him to sign Ware. I would think he would just come out and say we're keeping T.O. because of what he gives us on the field. Maybe I'm reading too many tea leaves but I thought it was a curious comment.