Jerry Jones made it clear, both in action and words: Getting rid of Terrell Owens means a fresh start for the Dallas Cowboys.
T.O. was released Thursday, ending a three-year run that produced as many big headlines as big plays. Many of those headlines were about ego and attitude, and Jones has decided enough is enough. He wants the focus on winning, something the Cowboys haven’t done in the playoffs since 1996.
“In the aftermath of the season, we talked about change,” Jones said in a statement. “Some of what is changing involves the process and some of it involves people. This is a decision that was made based upon consideration for an entire team.
“We will move on now with a new team—a new attitude—and into a new stadium. The evaluation process and the prospect for change will continue at every level of the organization.”
Owens released a statement on his Web site thanking Jones, coach Wade Phillips and the organization “for the opportunity to be a member of the team for the past three years.”
“A big thanks to the fans—you’ve been awesome! I look forward to the upcoming season and continuing to play in the NFL,” Owens added.
Owens caught more touchdown passes than any NFL receiver over the last three years and was a big part of Tony Romo’s emergence from an unknown backup to a starlet-dating Pro Bowl quarterback with a $67 million contract.
Yet the Cowboys went 0-for-2 in the playoffs with Owens, and didn’t even make it this past season. Dallas’ late-season collapse—capped by a lackluster effort in a win-and-you’re-in finale in Philadelphia—emphasized that a new approach was needed.
Jones was slow to go along. Just a few weeks ago, he indicated Owens wasn’t going anywhere and firmly said the idea of locker-room problems were “a figment of the result. You didn’t hear about those things when we were winning.”
Dallas also released safety Roy Williams on Thursday. Despite his reputation as a hard-hitter, teams never hesitated throwing his way in recent years because he struggled in coverage. After Owens, Williams likely was the second divisive figure among Cowboys fans—especially after Dallas already got rid of Adam “Pacman” Jones and Tank Johnson.
“Roy has been a wonderful representative of this organization since coming to Dallas,” Jones said. “Unfortunately we have reached a crossroad with his time here in Dallas and the difficult decision was made to allow him to explore other opportunities in the NFL.”
Cutting Owens and Williams will cost the Cowboys about $14 million against the salary cap. There’s no telling how much more Dallas will lose in jersey sales and other publicity Owens generated. Then again, the $1.1 billion stadium that’s opening next season should generate plenty of interest and souvenir sales.
Owens learned he was being cut Wednesday night and sent text messages to his friends. Cowboys receiver Sam Hurd said Owens’ reaction was “more shock than anger.”
“He didn’t give me an explanation. He just said, `Wow,”’ Hurd said Thursday. “I really didn’t believe that he seen that coming. … He said it’s tough, but it’s a business.”
What’s next for T.O.?
It remains to be seen what kind of market there is for a 35-year-old with a proven track record—good and bad.
Owens is among the NFL’s career leaders in catches, yards and touchdowns. Over the last three years, his 38 touchdowns are one more than Randy Moss and he’s among the league’s best in catches, yards, yard per catch and yards per game.
But the Cowboys are his third team and all three have gotten rid of him because of personality, not performance.
Al Davis and the Raiders might be interested. Or maybe Daniel Snyder will want to add another big-name star to the Washington Redskins, especially to take advantage of the animosity T.O. might bring to his two games a year against the Cowboys and the Eagles.
“I don’t think (being released) is going to stop him from playing football,” Hurd said. “He’s going to be back on somebody’s team.”
Don’t look for him to replace Laveranues Coles on the Jets. The team has no interest in Owens because of the distractions he’d bring, a person familiar with the team’s thinking told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The Cowboys signed Owens in March 2006, despite the bitterness some fans had for him having celebrated on the team’s star logo while playing for the 49ers. At his introductory news conference, Owens declared, “Getcha popcorn ready” and he certainly kept things interesting.
His first season included an accidental overdose that police initially called a possible suicide attempt and an obviously strained relationship with coach Bill Parcells. Yet it also included the most TD catches in the NFL and the birth of Romo’s stardom.
With a new coach and coordinator in 2007, Owens set a club record with 15 TD catches and Dallas tied the best record in franchise history at 13-3, only to lose its first playoff game. He tearfully supported Romo afterward, then a few months later received a $34 million contract extension at a news conference that featured a humongous bowl of popcorn.
The Romo-Owens relationship appeared to fray late this past season, with Owens upset about everything from game plans to pass distribution. He had 213 yards in one game, but cracked 100 yards in only one other game, the otherwise forgettable finale.
Dallas already has a replacement as the top receiver in Roy Williams, who led the NFC in yards receiving in 2006. The Cowboys gave up a first-, third- and sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft to get him from Detroit midway through last season.
In addition to Williams and Hurd, the Cowboys also have receivers Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin, plus Jason Witten, among the best receiving tight ends in the NFL.
What Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett no longer have are any concerns about whether No. 81 is happy.
“I know it takes a lot of pressure off Romo,” Hurd said. “A guy like him demands the ball and you want to get him the ball. Now he can look at all of us and see which one is open on any given play. … I don’t think that was a problem. That’s just what could and might start happening.”