Let Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones tell it: The release of receiver Lucky Whitehead after news broke of his arrest for petty theft was not a lesson to the team but rather an individual decision regarding a player with recurring issues.
The message, however, was received differently by Cowboys players as they walked off the field after their final practice Monday on the first day of training camp.
Whitehead was on the field with them Monday morning but gone by the afternoon.
“Sure, that stuff can’t come up,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We understand what is expected of us. We are going to stay close together. That is what this team does. Keep the standard really high. It’s a strong message to our entire football team. All of us, myself included.”
Receiver Dez Bryant was admittedly close with Whitehead, but he understood the decision the Cowboys had to make.
“We understand the message coach Garrett tries to send,” Bryant said. “We’re going to continue to keep on trying to respect his rules and respect his demands and do our best. … You’ve got to understand the bigger picture. This team is bigger than one person. You’ve got to have yourself in check. You’ve got to have your priorities in check.”
Whitehead is the third Cowboys player to be arrested since the end of last season. Cornerback Nolan Carroll was arrested in Dallas on a charge of driving while intoxicated, and linebacker Damien Wilson was arrested on two counts of felony aggravated assault.
It certainly sends a strong message to the entire team that continued bad behavior won’t be tolerated.
But Jones said this was more about Whitehead and his continued pattern of mistakes.
“Not worried about sending a message,” Jones said. “Worried about his situation. We looked at it, we looked at his full body of work and we made a decision to move on. We feel like we’ve given Lucky a lot of different chances along the way going back to last year, and I think just decided it was time to go in a different direction.”
Just the same, the message that came with Whitehead’s release resonated loud and clear with the Cowboys.