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Thursday, October 22, 2009
Cowboys have a new starter at WR -- sort of

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
The Cowboys have elevated receiver Miles Austin to the starting lineup, but the team's handling of the situation could have been better.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- Dan Snyder was one of the best things that ever happened to Jerry Jones. If not for Snyder's bumbling treatment of Washington Redskins "head coach" Jim Zorn, folks might be focused on the Dallas Cowboys' apparent communication failure at wide receiver.

I think we all assumed Miles Austin would crack the starting lineup when he had 10 catches for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-20 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs two Sundays ago, but the Cowboys have been guarding it like a state secret. Asked about the prospect of Austin replacing Patrick Crayton in the starting lineup Wednesday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reacted with an impressive barrage of "uh's" before escaping with a "There's no need to!"

First of all, do we think Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith is losing any sleep on whether Crayton's out of the Cowboys' starting lineup next Sunday? Of course not. This is just another instance of Wade Phillips' ham-handed ways of communicating with both his players and the media.

Crayton, a seventh-round pick in 2004 who has been a very serviceable player, became a prominent member of Terrell Owens' camp from '06 to '08, so he knows a thing or two about questioning the coaching staff. He pretty much knew he was going to lose his starting job based on his poor performance against the Chiefs and Austin's record-breaking day. But he felt like he at least deserved a heads-up from either Phillips or offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Wade Phillips claims the Cowboys talked to Patrick Crayton about his demotion.

"I would have loved it," Crayton said. "It would have been real standup. That's not what happened.''

Phillips was then asked repeatedly by reporters during his daily news conference Wednesday why no one thought to tell Crayton of his demotion before he had to find out during practice. He stumbled around for a bit before offering a firm, "We discussed it with him. I have no doubt about that."

Some of my colleagues in the Dallas media quickly pointed out that this type of miscommunication would never happen in the Bill Parcells regime, but that sounds like revisionist history to me. I recall former starting defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban finding out that he was inactive for a road game when he showed up at his locker and realized his uniform was missing. Ekuban had the nerve to complain about Parcells' manners, which didn't exactly help his career in Dallas.

Whether or not you think Crayton deserved better, it's obvious the Cowboys continue to fumble even the smallest of situations. Phillips eventually got around to explaining that Crayton still could be in the starting lineup Sunday if Roy E. Williams (ribs) isn't ready to go. And if he'd said that first, he could have avoided a hissing contest with Crayton.

With Phillips as the head coach, there's a leadership vacuum at Valley Ranch -- but I've written that column at least 11 times since the inception of the Beast and I need to let the last one breathe a little longer. On Wednesday, Jones used a misdirection play to throw reporters temporarily off the receiver trail. He decided to drop in a little nugget that another team had contacted him about trading a premium draft pick for a "key player" on the Cowboys' roster.

Thanks to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, we now believe that player's name is Martellus Bennett. I'm trying to find out exactly what the compensation would've been, but a second-round pick sounds about right for the talented Cowboys tight end. Jones wanted the story out there because it suggests that other personnel departments covet his players.

Bennett might be the most impressive four-catch tight end in the league. The entertaining player told me Wednesday that a fifth catch might transform his career. But it's not a funny topic to Cowboys fans. Their team has been awful in the red zone, where tight ends such as Jason Witten and the 6-foot-6 Bennett might come in handy. So far this season, Bennett's had one red zone throw in his direction.

But I get it. Why would you throw to those guys when you have Sam Hurd in one-on-one coverage with Champ Bailey?

OK, don't answer that.