The Greg Hardy experiment is over for the Dallas Cowboys. Although the team has not made any official announcement, the handwriting is on the wall, or at least the digital equivalent: multiple tweets asserting this from media types that have a good track record of knowing what is going on inside the team. And also Ian Rapoport, who does the blind hog thing sometimes.
His on-field contributions have apparently not been deemed to be worth the off-field distractions, and there have also been reports, notably from respected teammate Jeremy Mincey, that he was not perceived as a positive influence in the locker room. With the clear need to mount a better pass rush, it is telling that the team is not willing to continue on with a player who clearly has talent, although he was not as effective in 2015 as had been hoped.
This is just the latest situation involving players who have become problems. Last season, Joseph Randle came in as the starting running back, but his repeated run-ins with the law forced the team to part ways with him. He has now been arrested yet again. Meanwhile, Randy Gregory has been suspended four games under the NFL's substance abuse policy. And the same reliable sources who report Hardy's imminent departure are also indicating that the team is unlikely to try and re-sign linebacker Rolando McClain.
As evidenced by all four of those players, Dallas has been willing to take something of a chance on players with some fairly serious off-field issues. This probably has something to do with the team's experience with Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame member Charles Haley. He was a key in the Super Bowl run of the early 1990's. It was later learned that he suffered from some significant mental health issues that led to his sometimes erratic and disruptive behavior off the field, but he was such a dominant talent that the team managed to work around them. Winning championships makes for a lot of tolerance.
But when a team is playing .500 ball over an extended period, and coming off a massively disappointing season like the Great Debacle of 2015, that tolerance evaporates like a drop of sweat on a hot sidewalk in August.
Further, there has been a sense that the signing and drafting of players with significant warning flags was a sign of some tension in the front office for the Cowboys. It ran counter to the frequently-expressed philosophy of head coach Jason Garrett, who values character and a willingness to commit to his program almost as much as talent and ability. There were some moments, such as his body language captured on the war room camera when Gregory was drafted, that he was not on board with the decisions being made. While Jerry Jones has shown a commitment to Garrett as his head coach, expressed most clearly by keeping Garrett and his staff almost entirely intact despite the dismal results of last season, they are evidently not completely in agreement on this.
That should not be taken as a sign of any real trouble in Dallas. It should not be surprising that two alpha males would not always see eye to eye, and as the most hands-on of owners, Jones is going to sometimes assert himself. In the unique dynamic of the Cowboys, vice-president Stephen Jones, who has the extra security of being part of the owner's family, has often served as the swing vote. Sometimes, he backs Garrett. The most famous incident was the decision to stay away from Johnny Manziel in the 2014 draft, for which we should all be eternally grateful as we watch JFF self-destruct in spectacular fashion. But either because he supported his father or because Jerry put his foot down, the team has taken chances such as on the players mentioned above.
However, Jerry Jones is not a stupid man. And, unusually for a man in his seventies, he has demonstrated that he can learn from is mistakes. The recent moves to draft three offensive linemen in the first round after years of not doing so is one of the more obvious examples. Now, is he going to start listening more to Garrett about those red flags?
The Hardy decision might be one bit of evidence that there is something of a power shift going on. There were stateements from Rod Marinelli that indicated he wanted to keep Hardy, but he looks to have been overruled. These developments may indicate that Garrett is going to have more of a veto power in personnel. He may be able to put players in the box.
It is more of an evolutionary step than revolutionary. Garrett has arguably been gaining more power with each passing year. He had little say in who his assistant coaches were to begin with, but with the hiring of people like Scott Linehan, his influence is shown to be growing. Now, with the evidence mounting that troubled players do not work out all that often, he may gain the same kind of power over the roster. He has always wanted high-character players, and he has had some effect in that area. The Cowboys take a lot of team captains in the draft. It has been pointed to as a trait they look for. That is one positive inclination that seems to come from Garrett. Now, he may be more able to assert a negative vote when players are being considered for the draft board or as possible free agent acquisitions.
Of course, all that will not mean much if the Cowboys suffer another meltdown such as they did last year. Gaining more power over personnel decisions has to come with better results on the field. That is complicated by the several failures on the roster that the Cowboys are now dealing with, and there is an argument to be made that these problems have arisen despite Garrett, not because of him. But wins and losses trump all in the NFL. He is going to have to lead the team back into the playoffs soon. Otherwise, patience with him and his infamous process will go the way of that drop of sweat mentioned earlier. In the long run, avoiding players with a history of self-destructive behavior is likely going to pay dividends. Whether that will pay off quickly enough is an open question. With players in the draft like Noah Spence and Robert Nkemdiche, we may find out soon just how the winds are blowing in the Cowboys' front office.