But fortunately for Williams, he's been grandfathered into Jones' old philosophy, which is applied to embarrassing investments. When I asked Wade Phillips on Friday what he would do if someone like, say, Kevin Ogletree outperformed Williams in the offseason, the Cowboys coach quickly said he would "play the best player, no matter what."
This may have sounded like good news to Cowboys fans who briefly forgot that Phillips doesn't have final authority in such decisions. And two days later, Jones cleared things up when asked if he could envision a scenario in which Williams was benched.
"No. No. A big no," said Jones, as if Williams' starting spot was untouchable.
On a day in which the eternally optimistic owner tried to set an ominous tone, this qualified as classic doublespeak. The Cowboys gave up the bulk of their '09 draft and about $45 million for Williams, who delivered 38 catches last season and became a marginal part of the offense once Miles Austin was unleashed on the league in early November. In basically guaranteeing Williams a starting spot while threatening other players on the '09 roster, Jones has sent a confusing message: "Your job's on the line this offseason -- unless the loss of that job would embarrass the Jones family."
Among the many reasons he has given for releasing Terrell Owens last offseason, Jones said the talented but combustible wide receiver was a progress stopper. The owner didn't think receivers such as Austin and Sam Hurd could reach their full potential as long as T.O. was getting reps. Now it's fair to say that Williams might be impeding the progress of a second-year player such as Ogletree. Anyone who watched the Cowboys down the stretch knows that Williams was rarely on quarterback Tony Romo's radar. And when the Cowboys were attempting to clinch a huge win in New Orleans late in the fourth quarter, Williams remained on the sideline.
But now the onus is back on the coaches. It's up to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett -- and even the defense-minded Phillips -- to tap into Williams' talent and save face for the owner in the process. It's a strange way to do business. Jones almost believes that he can will a player to reach his potential by simply placing blind faith in him and making sure said player doesn't feel threatened in any way. And really, we're all searching for an employer -- or significant other -- such as Jones. Someone who offers unconditional support and trust while asking for minimal return on their investment.
Meanwhile, Jones has indicated that Ogletree, an undrafted rookie in '09, will have to pay the price if he wants to see the field in 2010. The owner indicated that Ogletree's future was hanging in the balance.
"If he comes in and works as hard as Miles Austin worked, then he's got a real upside," Jones said. "If he kind of floats in and floats around during our offseason and [organized team activities], then he might not see a roster spot. I'm serious."
That's right, folks. The least shall be first -- to be released if they "float" around during the offseason. But if you once had a 1,000-yard season in Detroit and are guaranteed $13 million in 2010, rest easy. Personally, I preferred Jones' '09 message that the team would play to the level of its new stadium. I once poked fun at that rallying cry, but in light of Jones' Sunday conversation, maybe he should stick with the massive HD screen as a motivating force.
"Last year, it was not any fun in the offseason," Jones said. "Everybody was pointing fingers. We were pointing fingers. I want some of that right now. I want some people nervous. I want our players nervous."
And with more mixed messages like the one he delivered Sunday, Jones will also make Cowboys fans nervous. If you want to create an uncomfortable atmosphere, exempting certain players doesn't seem like the way to go. Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson gave certain players special treatment while tormenting others.
He just made sure the special treatment was applied to the players who earned it. Fortunately for Williams, times have changed.