The popcorn finally went stale.
According to ESPN.com's Michael Smith, the Dallas Cowboys released wide receiver Terrell Owens Wednesday night, ending a three-year reign in Texas that resulted in as many playoff wins as the team had the decade prior without Owens.
That would be zero, for those of you keeping score at home.
Perhaps the most surprising element in all this isn't the fact that T.O. was cut -- we see moves like this all the time: a team moving an aging veteran with declining skills in the hopes of paying a younger player much less to do the same thing.
No, the real shock in this one is what T.O.'s release says. In short, owner Jerry Jones admitted he'd made a mistake. I'll understand if you need to go back and re-read that last bit. It's a lot to take in ... I can wait, if you'd like.
Jones has never been one to admit defeat. With deep pockets and an ego to match, Jones thought he could bring the disgruntled wideout from Philadelphia, where T.O. had sucecssfully bitchslapped Donovan McNabb in several ways and whined about wanting a new long-term deal after just one year.
In came Jones to save the day. A massive three-year deal later, Jones and Owens were smiling before a tub of popcorn so large, I'm not sure Jabba the Hutt or Rush Limbaugh could've finished it.
Sure, Owens had some nice moments in Dallas, put up some good numbers. But the Cowboys missed the playoffs last season, and in the two years prior Dallas was bounced from the first round. Head coach Wade Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo perhaps deserve more of the blame for that than Owens -- Phillips is too laid-back to be a head coach, and Romo apparently forgets how to win once all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone -- but Owens was certainly part of the problem.
Especially last season.
Make no mistake: a disgruntled wide receiver isn't exactly news in the NFL (right, Arizona?). But whereas most other receivers gripe for a few seconds before shutting their yap and ultimately doing what the team needs, T.O. made sure his discontent spread to everyone else; if Owens was unhappy, about half the team's locker room would be as well.
Owens thought Romo relied too heavily on tight end Jason Witten -- which, to an extent, he did down the stretch. Owens reportedly accused -- according to ESPN's Ed Werder, whom I trust -- Romo and Witten of having sleepovers (what is this, 5th grade?!) and devising specific plays for themselves without the rest of the team knowing.
Such discontent, though downplayed by the team publicly, undoubtedly festered in the locker room. Eventually, it probably spread to other players. The ones who didn't side with Owens were left trying to defend Phillips, Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett -- three figures who were becoming scapegoats in the Saga de Owens.
Jones has claimed in recent weeks that locker room chemistry is overrated, which might be true ... if this were baseball. Chemistry is paramount in the NFL, when you've got 53 guys all trying to go after the same goal. If everyone doesn't fall in line, if there's dissention in the ranks, a promising season and all the Super Bowl-caliber talent in the world won't be able to stop the inevitable train wreck.
It was obvious Jones and Phillips went out of their way to make Owens happy, in the process undermining Romo and Garrett. Such politicking will never translate into wins, and maybe the writing was on the wall during the season when the Cowboys traded for Roy Williams from the Lions.
Problem is, Williams didn't exactly light it up in Dallas; in 10 games, he caught just 19 balls for 198 yards. Then again, with Phillips trying to appease Owens, maybe Williams' production will increase in the coming season.
I wouldn't count on it, though.
So where does Owens go from here? It's not like he's swimming in options. Don't look for anyone else in the NFC East to look at him; Philly already went through that drama, the Giants have their own wideout problems (Plaxico Burress) and the Redskins probably don't have any more money to blow in free agency.
The Raiders? Given that team's history of bringing in problem players, it's always a possibility. But Owens is a far worse case than Randy Moss, who's been a model citizen since being traded to the New England Patriots.
If I'm Al Davis, I probably want T.O. But if I'm Tom Cable, or even JaMarcus Russell? In the words of Alaska's governor ... thanks, but no thanks.
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