Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Monday, February 16, 2009
Five reasons NOT to bring back T.O.

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

It's hard to say exactly when Terrell Owens became the biggest lightning rod in the NFL, but he firmly established his diva-hood when he went on the record questioning former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia's sexual preference. He has already banged out three books on himself as well as the children's classic, "Little T Learns to Share."

 
  AP Photo/Matt Slocum
  The Cowboys have a decision to make regarding Terrell Owens' future with the team.

Those books, which can be found in the self-indulgent section, describe a man who's always claimed to be misunderstood. He has been a wildly successful player, but he has worn out his welcome with two  franchises -- and that number could soon grow to three.

Sensing a mild interest in T.O.'s current status with the Dallas Cowboys, I decided to come up with five reasons why the club should release the controversial wide receiver. We searched for someone to take the other side, but even noted contrarian Seth Wickersham of The Mag wasn't up to the task. "Fortunately" for me, almost 900 of my readers answered the call.

I read through most of your comments in an attempt to find the best counter-argument. Some of you angrily accused me of milking this topic in an attempt to increase "blog ratings," which is both hurtful and absolutely true.

But before any of us say something we might regret, here are my (highly anticipated) five reasons why the Cowboys should dump T.O.:

He's become way too powerful: With no one on the coaching staff capable of holding him in check and an adoring owner serving as an enabler, T.O. has become the most powerful voice in the franchise. He painted perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten as the snitch in Werdergate -- and pretty much everyone in the locker room believed him. He's the most charismatic player on the team, causing young players to flock to him.

It was amazing to watch how almost every defensive player aligned with him when he was seeking private meetings with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to complain that Tony Romo obsessed over Witten too much in the offense. T.O. was joined by fellow receivers Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams, who had just 19 catches in 10 games with Dallas.

With a weak head coach in Wade Phillips, there's no one to police T.O. When he called out Garrett for not getting him involved, Jones and Phillips both sided with the player. As a wise man named Todd Haley once told Jones during an interview: "You'll never win anything with [T.O.] on your team."

At age 35, he's a declining player: This is the one that irks T.O. the most. He takes great pride in his body -- as evidenced by his latest book, "Finding Fitness." There's no doubt he can still put up decent numbers, but they don't make up for how divisive he is in the locker room.

 
  Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
  Terrell Owens produced just two 100-yard receiving games for the Cowboys in 2008.

During the 2007 season, he had 81 catches for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. In 2008, he only had two 100-yards games -- and one of those came in a 44-6 loss to the Eagles. In a win over the Packers early in the season, T.O. had two catches for 17 yards. From that point on, teams simply pressed him at the line of scrimmage and he couldn't get open. His best game of the season -- 213 yards against San Francisco -- occurred when 49ers head coach Mike Singletary inexplicably decided to give him a free release.

We all know he's going to drop at least eight or nine balls a season, but the Cowboys can live with that. His apologists will argue that he opens things up for other players on the field. Well, I didn't see it last season. I'll give him some grace for having to play three games with Brad Johnson, but not enough to keep him around.

He's about to devour another quarterback: For two years, Romo was able to avoid the fate of Garcia and Donovan McNabb by always deferring to T.O. But this team desperately needs Romo to take control of the locker room -- and it won't happen as long as T.O.'s around.

Neither one of them would admit it, but they have a fraudulent relationship that's fueled by public tears and touching text-message exchanges. In reality, T.O.'s incapable of trusting anyone who doesn't go out of his way to constantly massage his ego. When the game's on the line, Romo looks to the player he's more comfortable with -- and that's Witten.

With most receivers, a quarterback would eventually have to take them aside and tell them to shut up. But McNabb tried to do that in the huddle one time and it provided the basis for T.O.'s second book, which was co-authored by the lesser-known Rosenhaus brother. The Cowboys have made a huge investment in Romo, and so far he hasn't lived up to the expectations that he established by playing so well early in his career. I believe that Romo and the Cowboys will never take the next step -- winning a playoff game -- until T.O.'s gone.

Terrell Owens
#81 WR
Dallas Cowboys

2008 STATS
REC YDS TD AVG LNG YAC
69 1,052 10
15.2 75 274

The offensive coordinator doesn't know how to use him anymore: For the life of me, I can't figure out what took Garrett so long to figure out that T.O. needed help getting off the line of scrimmage last season. Players such as Shawn Springs, the immortal Leon Hall and Rod Hood took T.O. out of the game by beating him up at the line of scrimmage. And Garrett and Romo became so focused on trying to keep the receiver happy that the rest of the offense suffered.

The Cowboys will have the three-headed running attack of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice next season. Garrett must take advantage of that strength and not worry how it might impact T.O.'s numbers. To be clear, I think the offense would definitely miss T.O. because of his game-breaking qualities. But at this point, the risk of having a divided locker room isn't worth the positives that he could provide.

I think the guy works as hard as anyone and he actually has some of the attributes of an effective leader. But I've never been around a more emotionally immature player. Whether it's intentional or not, he's eventually going to hurt your team. I think some people at Valley Ranch, including Stephen Jones, realize that. But his father will make the ultimate decision.

Roy Williams would be better without T.O.: After watching Williams for 10 games, that does seem like a dicey proposition. Still, the Cowboys must do everything possible to help Williams. They gave up first- and third-round picks in April's draft for him. He's supposed to be the long-term solution, so why wouldn't you eliminate what could be the biggest roadblock to his success?

At first, Williams thought it was in his best interest to join the T.O. camp. He was part of the delegation that went to visit with Garrett. Now he's had time to realize that he's better off fighting his own battle. With free agency and the draft coming up, the Cowboys must make a decision on T.O. My gut tells me he'll be released, but Jones hates admitting mistakes.

  Cowboys timeline
  NFL.com Video
  Rise and fall of the 2008 Cowboys.

Of course, if he keeps T.O., he'll be making another big one.

Now we've arrived at the audience participation portion of this column. I asked for the T.O. apologists to come forward and provide at least one legitimate reason for keeping the wide receiver. At last count, more than 900 people responded via the comments section and my personal e-mail account, which may or may not have been leaked by a member of my family. I read through all of your comments and came up with the one that sounded the most logical. In the end, someone named "Dacrumeister" is our lucky winner. Take a bow, sir:

"T.O. is an attention-hungry competitor who cares more about his own clothing line than becoming a devoted, team-oriented leader," writes Dacrumeister. "However, T.O. and Michael Irvin have a lot in common (the controversies, the bad image, the competitive and showboating nature), and I don't recall people being happy when Irvin's career ended. T.O. is dynamite on the field, which is why we need him. In a sport of inches, T.O. can give us yards. How do you deal with him? We do need someone to step up and lead our team, but that's definitely not T.O.'s responsibility. Who would even truly listen to a guy that has so much baggage in the league? The point is not to get rid of a dynamic player, but to learn how to use him appropriately.

"Championship teams do not sacrifice throwing to a high-octane player because they are double- and even triple-teamed (prime example is Larry Fitzgerald in every game of the playoffs), but the Cowboys do. I would be upset if someone paid me to play and only used me as bait most of the year. I don't think it's the coaches' fault or the media's, or even T.O.'s. Last year was a prime example of how dedicated a quarterback and wide receiver need to be in order to succeed in this league; a mid-season injury that lasts a few games can wreak havoc on such a critical tandem. As an avid Cowboys fan, I remember the last 12 years of suffering and I don't think we could be placed in a better position to show integrity and desire to overcome adversity than now. Keep T.O."

I don't agree with Dacrumeister (especially on the Irvin comparison), but I thought he made some solid points. Thanks to everyone who participated. See you in the comments section later this afternoon.