X and O.
You can spend weeks trying to peel away the onion-layered complexities of Owens' tenure with the Cowboys. However, the root of his inability to coexist with teammates such as quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten had as much to do with basic football as anything else.
This is why – even as they make the move to have Roy Williams as their No. 1 receiver, promoting talented youngster Miles Austin to Owens' spot and leaving Patrick Crayton as the No. 3 – the Cowboys will likely benefit from subtracting Owens' talent.
In Williams and Witten, the Cowboys have a solid 1-2 punch that could be great if Williams realizes his full potential. Austin is considered an emerging talent, blessed with great size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and speed. He flashed that ability with 13 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns last season. Crayton is a solid No. 3 who knows how to work the middle of the field and has the guts to do it.
But while the passing game has garnered much of the attention, the foundation of the team will be the running game. Between tough-running Marion Barber, electric-but-recovering rookie Felix Jones, talented backup Tashard Choice and the brutish offensive line, the Cowboys have a terrific running game.
Even more important, they have guys who know and understand their roles.
With Owens, no matter how much people told him he was the No. 1 target and no matter how much the play-calling screamed it, he never really believed it. Blame that on whatever you want – perhaps starting with his childhood – but Owens trusts no one. He is a bottomless pit for unconditional love.
In football, trust among players is everything. As Romo and the Cowboys receivers gathered this week to begin some offseason throwing – working on building the essentials of that trust – franchise owner Jerry Jones had to make a decision. According to multiple sources and reports, everyone – from Jones' son Stephen to Romo to Witten to head coach Wade Phillips to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to veterans such as Flozell Adams – was telling Jones that Owens had to go. Thus, Jones was faced with no other choice if his team is ever to realize its talent.
Football is a game that is more about the sum of the parts than the value of the individuals. There is no arguing that Owens is a stunning combination of size and speed. At 6-3, 224 pounds, he can dominate in just about any part of the field. Short, intermediate and deep, Owens is a load as a player, even at age 35 and even as he struggles against bump coverage.
But when he refuses to talk to his quarterback and tight end, Owens is worthless. According to three sources, there were times at the end of last season when Romo didn't know what Owens might do from play to play. When Romo tried to talk to Owens about it, he got no response.
Ultimately, this is about emotions and personality differences. This is about being able to function together. Any quarterback, regardless of whether he gets along with his receivers, needs to know what the guy is going to do.
There have been plenty of receivers who have had their problems with their quarterbacks. Reggie Wayne once shoved Peyton Manning. Mark Duper and Mark Clayton used to argue with Dan Marino all the time … in the huddle. Sterling Sharpe didn't see eye to eye with Brett Favre. Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper disagreed at times.
The key is that the bickering can't get in the way of the bigger picture: execution and winning. And when the team's play is affected or becomes a concern – as eventually became the case in Minnesota with Moss and Culpepper – someone must go.
The drama certainly escalated between Owens, Romo and other teammates last season, but the bickering is only part of the concern. Former Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe told more than one person that dealing with Owens' antics wasn't the problem. Not knowing where Owens was going to be on a pass route was the problem.
Theoretically, Dallas should be able to operate more crisply offensively with the subtraction of Owens. Witten and Romo are obvious friends, so that relationship is solid. Williams is a good-natured soul who just wants a chance to win after fleeing Detroit.
Austin, Crayton and fellow backup Sam Hurd don't have the résumés to act out, even if they were tight with Owens. If they want to get paid, they better go along with the program. If not, they can follow Owens out the door.
In fact, the guy who stands to become the true leader of the Cowboys now that Owens is gone has the perfect personality to lead. Barber, armed with his reckless running style, figures to become the face of the Cowboys without Owens. He is the essence of what so many people love about football players: rough, selfless and quiet.
Barber rarely does interviews and almost never reveals what he's thinking deep, down inside. He's the son of a football player, raised on how to be a team player. Run hard and talk soft. Of course, that's the antithesis of how the Cowboys act under Jones. But right now, that's what the Cowboys need.
- the Cowboys