Jerry Jones wore a cap emblazoned with a big, stylish “D” in the middle when he faced the media on Sunday and raised the curtain on another Dallas Cowboys training camp.
No, this “D” didn’t represent discipline. Maybe it signified drama. Or distractions.
The Cowboys tied a franchise record with 13 victories last season and, for the first time in several years positioned themselves for a Super Bowl run, but the opening session for the team’s owner, coach Jason Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones was dominated by questions about off-the-field issues that dog the franchise. Again.
Check the scorecard. Two players are already suspended. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott, investigated by the NFL for more than a year under the umbrella of the domestic violence policy, is one of three players with pending situations that might result in suspensions. Meanwhile, rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis will be in court on Monday, on trial for a domestic violence charge.
For the Cowboys, roll call comes with a different twist.
Assault investigation allegedly involving Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott suspended
As he stood next to a golf cart following the press conference – where 20 minutes passed before a single question was asked about something unrelated to the off-field drama – I asked Jones if he is embarrassed by the series of incidents that draw negative attention.
“It’s important that I show that I’m sensitive to what our fans think, the perception, as opposed to just saying that’s business and that’s just what you deal with,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports.
Jones added that the off-field issues would provide a theme for his first address at camp.
“It’s fresh, and it will be noted when we talk to our players in the team meeting,” he said.
This is hardly fresh, except for the recent cases. Scrutiny on Elliott included him being involved in an altercation at a Dallas nightclub, when a man suffered a broken nose (police have suspended investigation of the case), which comes months after he pulled down a woman's top during a public St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Meanwhile, linebacker Damien Wilson is facing aggravated assault charges stemming from a dispute in early July over a parking space.
Cowboys rookie Jourdan Lewis to stand trial for misdemeanor domestic violence charge
Seems like business as usual for the Cowboys, no strangers to controversies.
“We certainly feel like we have our share…(but) that should not be interpreted as having any tolerance for any of those things,” Jones said during the press conference. “It does happen. Happens to all clubs. We’re ready to deal with it.”
That was just one of the predictable statements coming from the brain trust.
Another came from Garrett, who repeated, “Character is critical for us.”
While it’s unfair to lump all of the players in the same basket as it pertains to character, it’s also true that the Cowboys have their own standard in the character scale.
Remember, this was the team that signed Greg Hardy in 2015 following the domestic violence issues that led to his release from the Carolina Panthers. Hardy lasted one drama-filled season with Dallas, proving that the tolerance indeed has limits.
Still, the basic philosophy hasn’t changed. Jones will still take chances on players that other teams will pass on as risks, and the result is that this sometimes blows up in their face.
Consider the case of Randy Gregory, the defensive end who could be entering his third NFL season. He’s suspended indefinitely under the NFL’s substance abuse policy after being suspended for all but two games last season. The Cowboys took a chance on Gregory, who had similar issues in college.
Jones knows the risks as well as anyone. He should also realize the energy drain that affects the organization when problems persist.
“The risk is worth the potential reward,” Jones said. “We’ve had some success with guys who have worked through some things.”
He went on to mention Charles Haley and Michael Irvin, two of the pillars to the Cowboys teams that won three Super Bowls over a four-year span in the 1990s. Haley and Irvin worked through their problems and wound up as Hall of Famers. Yet the ‘90s are long gone. Those Cowboys teams, on which Garrett was a backup quarterback for two of the Super Bowl years, indeed worked through so much drama.
And those Cowboys teams were consistent winners.
Now the Cowboys are challenged to prove that last year was no fluke, that they can win big again despite the cloud of off-field issues.