With T.O. Gone, Oxygen Level in Clubhouse Climbs

Forgive Terrell Owens for thinking that raising a ruckus in Dallas was the point.

Both he and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knew what they were getting when they tied the contractual knot three years ago. A mirror would have confirmed that. And only one could afford to cause more trouble than he's worth.

The only surprising thing about Jones breaking his self-imposed gag order on all T.O.-related matters to announce Owens' release is that it came so soon after they renewed their vows with a four-year, $34 million extension last summer.

Jones may be unsentimental. But as someone who made his fortune as an oil wildcatter, gambling is still second nature. Even so, taking on talented headaches such as Owens, considering the franchise hasn't won a postseason game in 13 years, increasingly looks like a bad bet.

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So when you hear the Cowboys boss talking about taking the team in a "new direction," he's talking about risk management. Apparently, the football people he ignored all these years finally convinced Jones that fielding a winning team might be an even better way to push product, not to mention much easier on his checkbook and everybody else's nerves.

Jones hated closing down the local chapter of "Boys Town" in Dallas, and not just because bringing in T.O. -- whose only crime is selfishness -- as well as Adam "Pacman" Jones and Tank Johnson was his idea.

But Jones is on the hook for close to $800 million of the $1.1 billion sunk into the stadium the Cowboys are bringing online next season, so apparently he's willing to give winning a try.

Letting Owens go now is a smart move, addition by subtraction. The Cowboys will miss his production, no doubt, but since T.O. has blown up the locker room of every other NFL team he played for, the collateral damage he'll cause somewhere else is a plus. Besides, the NFC East rivals the Cowboys worry about most already have had the pleasure of his company (Philadelphia), or gone on the record and said no thanks for the opportunity (New York Giants and Washington).

Those who think otherwise and point to Randy Moss' resurgence with New England miss two important points. T.O. is five years older than Moss; and there are only so many teams in the league with coaches powerful enough to lay down the law and a host of veterans just itching to back him up.

Tennessee gets mentioned as a possibility, perhaps even Indianapolis in the wake of Marvin Harrison's departure, and there's always Oakland. All are in the AFC, and none will cause Jones to lose any sleep.

A few weeks ago, Jones was asked whether he was worried about his team's chemistry. "Not at all," he said. "Not at all.

"And if y'all knew more about some of the things that you write about," he couldn't resist lecturing reporters a moment later, "you wouldn't be as concerned."

Apparently Jones was the one who needed a refresher course. His football people only had to remind him there are minimum oxygen requirements for every clubhouse, and T.O. was consuming much more than his share. With him gone, quarterback Tony Romo not only will breathe better; he and the rest of the offense, as well as coordinator Jason Garrett and head coach Wade Phillips, will conserve plenty of energy by not having to look over their shoulders as much.

Besides, Jones himself took out an insurance policy on T.O. earlier this season by bringing receiver Roy Williams to Dallas from Detroit. He also happens to have three very good running backs -- Marion Barber and second-year backups Felix Jones and Tashard Choice -- to lessen the number of times Romo will be tempted to try something stupid.

Anybody who doesn't think Romo was trying to throw something in Owens' direction from the second he picked up a tube of toothpaste in the morning should remember what happened in a loss to the Washington Redskins earlier this season. Romo did that 18 times and even handed the ball off to Owens twice. That's more than a third of the 58 offensive plays the Cowboys ran.

Owens caught seven balls, but by midweek was trying to hand the rest back to Romo like so many hot potatoes. "Put on the screen all 18 passes that were thrown my way," T.O. said, "and you make the assessment of all those passes."

Jones will be doing just that, assuming he can take a break from counting his money. With Owens gone, Romo's name just moved onto the top line of every cost-benefit analysis. Signing veteran Jon Kitna as a backup would have looked like a smart move for most any team. Bringing him to the Cowboys, Jones also sent a message.

Based on early returns, this "new direction" is already paying dividends. In addition to releasing Owens, the Cowboys also announced they were parting with moody safety Roy Williams, who like Owens, caused problems in the locker room, but helped sell a lot of jerseys.

It's surely coincidental the two were famously linked in 2004, when Williams' horse-collar tackle of Owens sidelined the then-Eagles receiver for several weeks and set up his near-miraculous return in time for the Super Bowl.

Either way, it's not a bad start when you can shed two headaches at once.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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