OXNARD, Calif. The Dallas Cowboys, it seems, decided to make an example out of wide receiver Lucky Whitehead.
The team released Whitehead just hours after news broke that he had a warrant out for his arrest for failure to appear in a Virginia court for a hearing on a shoplifting charge.
It was first reported by TMZ, blindsiding the Cowboys and coach Jason Garrett as they began their first practice of training camp Monday.
“As we gathered more information on that particular situation and the conversations we had with Lucky about that situation, and we put that in context with his career with us, we felt it was in the best interest to release him,” Garrett said. “We felt like that was good for us going forward and good for him. A wake-up call to handle to situation the right way.
Whitehead’s spot as the team’s primary kick returner was put in jeopardy in April when the team drafted return candidate Ryan Switzer.
Whitehead, 25, was charged in Prince William County, Virginia, on June 22 for shoplifting/petit larceny under $200. At around 1:30 a.m. June 22, he was stopped by police after being accused of leaving a convenience store without paying for items.
He was ordered to appear in court July 6.
It remains an open and active warrant. The court date has been reset to Aug. 10, per court records.
Whitehead was ushered off the practice field Monday by a member of the public relations staff to avoid the media but did say he “didn’t know anything about” the warrant and was the first he had heard of it.
Whitehead denied that it was him to Cowboys.
His agent, Dave Rich, told ESPN and NFL Network that it’s a case of mistaken identity, that Whitehead committed no crime, and that he was not in Virginia when the incident occurred.
Rich produced a flight ticket that showed Whitehead in Dallas on June 22. His United Flight left at 7:18 a.m. direct to Washington, D.C., that morning and landed at 11:30 a.m. — 10 hours after the alleged crime occurred.
A source said the Cowboys did their own investigation and came to the conclusion that Whitehead was not telling the complete truth.
The perpetrator not only had the same name as Whitehead, a source said, but the same birth date and Social Security number.
That proved to be enough for the Cowboys after a litany of off-the-field incidents involving its players this offseason and a pattern of bad decisions from Whitehead.
He made national news last week after posting on Instagram that his dog had been kidnapped and held for ransom.
The dog was soon returned, but the Cowboys have questions on what actually happened.
Last season, Whitehead was suspended for a game when he missed a Saturday team meeting after posting on Snapchat his escapades of the night before.
“We evaluate the situation and how it was handled by the player after the incident and we evaluate the body of work,” Garrett said.
“When you have someone in your program in this environment and they don’t grow, and they make the same mistakes over and over again, it’s time to move on.”
It was even more disappointing to the Cowboys that Whitehead didn’t alert the team about the legal situation when it happened.
He is the third Cowboys player to be arrested since the end of last season. Cornerback Nolan Carroll was arrested in Dallas for 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.
“Not worried about sending a message,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen 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.”
Whitehead’s Cowboys career ends after two seasons. He appeared in 30 games with two starts. He has rushed 20 times for 189 yards and caught nine passes for 64 yards.