It’s time to put a gag order on T.O. talk

From ESPN

Since the Cowboys cut Terrell Owens in March, owner Jerry Jones has offered up a number of nuanced explanations for the surprise move.

Just when you thought it was safe to take a summer vacation, Jerry Jones and Son have provided the sixth and seventh explanations of the offseason for why Terrell Owens is no longer on the Cowboys’ roster. And if you’re in the Dallas area, make sure and stop by T.O.’s “invitation only” going-away-forever party at the Empire Club on Thursday evening.

Here’s hoping the Jones boys have retired to their palatial vacation home near Destin, Fla., for a little R&R. Otherwise, Jerry and heir apparent, Stephen, might treat us to further explanations for T.O.’s sudden departure.

Every offseason, the elder Jones falls in love with a catchphrase. During the steamy summer of ’08, he rolled out “wow receiver” for a couple months until he realized none were available. He started the ’09 offseason by saying it was his goal to make the offense more “Romo friendly.”

Of course, the first step in creating a “Romo friendly” environment was apparently eliminating T.O. Jones could’ve left it at that, but for whatever reason, he spent the next four months offering a variety of reasons for T.O.’s departure. I’ll never forget the moment during the owners’ meeting in Dana Point, Calif., when Jones looked me in the eye (for a little too long) and insisted that young Miles Austin was well on his way to replacing T.O. as a deep threat. My probing follow-up question was something along the lines of, “What did you just say?”

Not that I don’t think Austin has enormous potential, but it just seemed ludicrous that Jones was pointing to him as one of the main reasons for T.O.’s departure. It was part of his overall theme that T.O.’s presence was impeding the progress of young receivers such as Austin, Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd.

Jones also talked about how releasing T.O. would hopefully allow Roy Williams to flourish, which seems like a good idea since the Cowboys basically exchanged their ’09 draft for him. In the end, Jones shouldn’t feel compelled to offer any explanations — especially the ones that make no sense. I believe that enough key voices finally convinced Jones that the distractions caused by T.O. had surpassed his production on the field, which was immense during his three seasons in Dallas.

Honestly, it’s hard to comprehend how difficult this decision was for Jones. First of all, he was intoxicated by T.O.’s celebrity and the fact that he was a “SportsCenter” tease waiting to happen. And there’s also the fact that releasing him meant Jones was admitting that he’d made a mistake in signing him to a lucrative contract extension before the ’08 season. I don’t know anyone who enjoys admitting when he’s wrong, but billionaires seem to have a particularly tough time.

In some ways, talking about T.O. (continually) seems therapeutic for Jones. In fact, the owner has admitted to hanging on T.O.’s every word since he’s been in Buffalo.

“He’s got credibility with me,” Jones said earlier this month.

Never mind that T.O. called out the owner later that afternoon for not being truthful about his status on the team.

Stephen Jones, the team’s executive VP, said having a strong personality like Owens’ around made it difficult for Romo to be a leader.  

Last week at the Cowboys’ mandatory minicamp, the Jones family was at it again. And I thought Stephen, the club’s executive vice president, may have had the most intriguing comments when he told Yahoo! Sport’s Mike Silver that T.O.’s release had a lot to do with Romo.

 “It’s hard to take over leadership when you’ve got a strong personality like Terrell,” Jones said. “If you look back at our old teams [from the 1990s], a lot of people would say maybe Michael [Irvin] was the leader. Then you might say, ‘He was a receiver. What about Troy [Aikman]? He was the quarterback. Wasn’t he the leader?’ And the answer is, yeah, Troy was a leader. But if Michael wasn’t supportive of him, Troy would’ve had problems.

“A lot of our players thought the world of Terrell — they still do. They loved the way he prepared and how hard he played, and everybody respected his skills and what he’d done in the league. And with him here, I think he was always going to carry that kind of weight.”

First off, I don’t agree with Stephen on the comparison to the Aikman-Irvin relationship. Aikman was the unquestioned leader of that team. To say that Aikman would’ve “had problems” if Irvin hadn’t supported him is a leap I’m not willing to take. If Irvin were doing anything to undermine Aikman, the quarterback would’ve dealt with it swiftly and moved on. That’s how much respect he had in the locker room.

Romo has some outstanding leadership qualities, but obviously he doesn’t have skins on the wall like Aikman to silence a huge personality such as T.O. And quite frankly, I’m not even sure Aikman would’ve known how to deal with someone as divisive as T.O. Fortunately for him, Irvin cared about two things in the early ’90s — winning and Michael Irvin. And he usually had them in the right order.

But I do think that Stephen Jones comes closest to providing the biggest reason for why T.O.’s no longer in Dallas. You have a huge investment in a 29-year-old franchise quarterback and you have a smaller investment in a 35-year-old wide receiver. If one of them has to go, it’s a pretty easy choice.

But for one month, at least, I’m hoping the Joneses will honor that gag order Jerry issued about four months ago. He has floated a lot of explanations out there, some of which seemed reasonable. Let’s all take a month off, and then we can resume the T.O. conversation in San Antonio.

By then, maybe Jerry can come up with some fresh explanations.

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