Cowboys A Bunch Of Quitters?

The Cowboys' Morris Claiborne has returned to the team after going AWOL after hearing of his demotion. He might be back in the fold, but is the urge to quit something that permeates the club?

There’s a pattern forming.

No matter the context, every member of a company, team, or any collection of individuals starts with each member being their own person. The path each took to arrive at the shared destination is as unique as the fingerprints they leave when they open the door of opportunity. Yet still, there is a commonality in each of them, as they’ve all arrived at a similar destination. For those trained in the social sciences the study of how factors, both micro and macro, lead these paths to intersect with each other is a fascinating study. One would imagine that if a case study was made out of the Dallas Cowboys, those social scientists would have a field day developing theories. Morris Claiborne’s disgruntled hissy fit that led him to walk out on his team yesterday is just the latest example.

It may in fact be easy for the general public to forgive Claiborne for his actions, but maybe he shouldn't be forgiven. Maybe the reason that head coach Jason Garrett has only fined Claiborne for going AWOL instead of suspending him is because he feels he handled the announcement incorrectly and empathizes with the reaction it caused. Maybe it was a fellow player that caused Mo to walk away from the facility. Maybe Orlando Scandrick did a little taunting when it was announced who was going to start. Or maybe, something a bit larger is at work here.

The Cowboys, for all of their “Right-Kind-Of-Guy” mantras, and public testimonies to their in-game resolve, have seemingly developed a culture where their players feel it’s acceptable to quit. One has to wonder how this team will ever be truly competitive on a grand scale when players have been infected with the mindset that this behavior will be allowed. It has to be at least considered that if multiple people see walking away as a feasible option, their ability to handle in-game adversity can be questioned as well.

While each player has their own individual set of circumstances as to why they abandoned the team, there are enough environmental factors that one has to wonder the role of the macro. How much does the franchise of the Dallas Cowboys have to do with this mentality?

The Undrafted Rookie

Beasley’s heart wasn’t in football soon after this picture was snapped.

Back in the Summer of 2012, an undrafted rookie with very little fanfare decided that he was not interested in pursuing his dream of becoming an NFL player any longer. Cole Beasley walked out on the team, and while some fans tried to spin it as him having a family issue he had to tend to, the truth is he was just no longer interested in going through what it took to be a professional. He said his heart just wasn’t into football. He walked out on the team. He was a quitter.

Head Coach Jason Garrett and the staff told Beasley that they were open to his return, unafraid of the consequences this message would send to the teammates that he left behind. Beasley took a few days to realize he was being a dumb-ass and returned to the team. Most have now spun this as a success story as and, while nowhere near a star, Beasley has turned into an important member of the Cowboys offense. But was it really no harm no foul?

The Hotheaded Veteran

The Rat changed his name, and may have changed the game.

Fast-forward to later in the 2012 football season. Noted Cowboys hothead and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff suffered a season ending injury to his midsection. It was first reported as a groin situation and later Ratliff would have sports hernia surgery. The following training camp, Ratliff participated in his 2013 training camp conditioning test and said that he suffered a hamstring tweak. Ratliff would never play another down for the Dallas Cowboys again.

From most reports, Ratliff made the Cowboys believe that his injuries were so severe, that he would not be able to return to the field to help them. Much discussion was placed on the fact that Ratliff was utterly disgusted with the care and advice that he had received from the Dallas medical staff when his original injury was misdiagnosed. After being informed by Jay Ratliff and his representatives that his injuries were so severe he would not be able to play again in 2013, the Cowboys released him. In a move to save themselves some salary cap space, the Cowboys walked away from a four-time Pro Bowler.

Miraculously, or possibly dastardly, Ratliff was almost immediately cleared to resume physical activities by his doctor after his release in October. Sure enough, there was Ratliff suiting up for the Chicago Bears and giving a middle finger directly at the Cowboys a few weeks later. Now known as Jeramiah Ratliff, the player showed that it was very possible to manipulate this particular franchise in a way not often seen in the NFL.

Whatever the differences that Ratliff found to be irreconcilable with the organization, Ratliff walked out on this team. He was a quitter.

The Unused Backup

What Orton was doing was obvious to many. It still worked.

The Cowboys battled injuries throughout the 2013 season, and could have certainly used Ratliff as they trotted out over 20 different defensive linemen throughout the year. The biggest injury, however, was the back of Tony Romo. After offseason surgery, Romo played the entire year with pain in his back of varying degrees and effect on his play. Things reached a head in the Week 16 comeback victory over Washington and he was unable to play the NFCE Championship game Week 17 against Philadelphia. In stepped the Cowboys very well-paid backup Kyle Orton.

Orton, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million free agent contract to be Romo’s backup prior to the 2012 season, was unable to win the game and Dallas once again finished 8-8. Soon after the season concluded, Orton informed the Cowboys that he was considering retirement. Now while retiring from a game you’ve played since you were eight years old is a difficult decision, Orton dragged his out over several months.

Anticipating that Orton was not going to be with the team, Dallas took a flyer on Brandon Weeden, who had been released by the Cleveland Browns. The draft approached, and still no definitive word from Orton. The draft passed, and still no word. Offseason activities came and went, still no Orton. Some writers and fans saw the writing on the wall, that Orton was seemingly holding the Cowboys hostage. Others still defended his right to take the time to make such a serious decision. Others thought he was just trying to get out of offseason work as veterans sometimes do.

The Cowboys made it clear throughout the offseason that they were under the impression that Orton was still planning to retire. However, as training camp approached, Orton was still noncommittal and still unaccounted for. Dallas’ brass made the decision that they did not want the distraction of a holdout during camp and released Orton a few weeks prior to reporting to Oxnard for training camp.

With the move, owner Jerry Jones admitted that he and the team were now not so confident that Orton was going to retire. Apparently, Orton wanted to still play football, just not for the Cowboys. Sure enough, a few days before the regular season started, there was Kyle Orton signing to be a backup for the Buffalo Bills.

The Cowboys held all the cards with Orton. They wouldn’t have had to pay him if he didn’t report. They could have pursued recouping signing bonus money, and they could have fined him for missing mandatory practice sessions. Instead, they allowed him to dictate his terms to them and walk away scot-free. Orton didn’t want to wear the star anymore. He was a quitter.

The DeMOted Diva

We don’t believe you, you need more people, Morris.

False bravado is a common thing to detect for those with a knack for reading people. Throughout training camp, we were all treated to glowing reports of how oft-injured defensive back Morris Claiborne had turned the corner from his previous campaigns. The former sixth-overall pick who the Cowboys erroneously moved up for in the 2012 draft was lauded for the confidence he was showing in camp as he routinely demanded to challenge Dez Bryant in matchup drills. Claiborne, in his all-important third season, was always seen talking up a storm, displaying a swagger and confidence he had yet to show up to that point.

People readers know that confidence isn’t something you normally find; at least not in this kind of outward expression. Those who act timidly, who all of a sudden want to tell everyone how big and bad they are, normally are doing so in an effort to convince themselves. It’s great when they come through and are publicly lauded for their improvement. The problem is, when things go south, the lack of confidence quickly returns.

That seems to have occurred in spades with Morris Claiborne. After having one of the worst days a corner could have; targeted seven times, allowing five completions for over 100 yards and two touchdowns, Claiborne was demoted. Third-string nobody quarterback Austin Davis told the Fox broadcasting team it was in their gameplan to target Claiborne, and they did so with ringing success.

How did the guy that was supposed to be supremely confident in his ability react to the news he was no longer starting? Did he swear that he was going to go out and prove the coaches wrong? Did he vow to improve his play and make opposing teams pay for throwing the ball his way, like he did with his game-sealing interception? Nope. He took his ball and went home. He left the facilities, albeit temporarily. He quit.

The Link

Four different players, four drastically different scenarios, but all have done something that one rarely sees at the NFL level. It’s not very often that players just out and out quit on a team, and the irony of the team now relying on Rolando McClain is not lost on the author. The Cowboys have now had four different players quit on the organization in some form or fashion in the last two and a half seasons. Something is afoot.

When Jay Ratliff quit, there was plenty of talk about concern that he “showed the way” to other players that were disgruntled with the club. His example showed that the Cowboys would cave, and for all intents and purposes that was proved in the Kyle Orton ordeal. Instead of sticking to their guns, Dallas walked away from Orton knowing that he was playing them. Now, Claiborne has followed in the footsteps of Beasley; when the going got tough, the not-so-tough got to going.

At this point, there will be several fans who simply don’t agree that macro forces have any effect on individuals. They think that each scenario is different and unless every case played out in the exact same way then there is no correlation. However, it must be considered that the environment these players are in has a lot to do with why they have chosen to quit.

Whether die-hard fans want to admit it or not, and most do with the caveat they know that things probably will not drastically change for a number of years, the Cowboys have had a dysfunctional structure. The man who is ultimately in charge of bringing in players, the General Manager, is also the team owner and responsible for “selling” the team to the general public. Jerry Jones is very much the personification of a conflict of interest. The idea that an owner’s goals influences the goals of the GM is nowhere near unique to the Dallas Cowboys. However, the fact that the owner’s goals are always at the forefront of the GM’s thought process is.

The fact that the Owner/GM hires assistant coaches without the consent of the man that is supposed to lead the players into battle, is dysfunctional. Jones did it to Wade Phillips with the hiring of Jason Garrett, and then apparently did it to Jason Garrett with the hiring of Bill Callahan and Monte Kiffin. Dallas has made strides to correct the hierarchy structure with this regime, but it’s not all lollipops and gumballs just yet. It certainly hasn’t been a smoothly run machine for several years.

Maybe this uncertainty of who is in charge leads to players not being fully committed to the task at hand.

Maybe some of it has to do with a lack of confidence in the head coach himself. Jason Garrett has often been criticized for his lack of game management prowess. If players aren’t confident their general is capable, they could possibly be more inclined to jump ship instead of fighting to the end. One can’t be inspired by “the process” if they aren’t achieving the desired results.

Maybe the team hasn’t done as good of a job as they hoped in selecting their “Right Kind of Guys”. While Ratliff was here before Garrett and a UDFA flyer shouldn’t be held to the same standards, Orton and Claiborne were hand-picked. These guys are most definitely required to fulfill the edict, and both have demonstrated they are not the leader types they were expected to be.

Claiborne went AWOL and has been welcomed back into the fold with open arms and no repercussions. Is this a positive, showing the team that everyone can have a bad day? Or is it a bad thing, letting the players know once again that it might no longer be Camp Cupcake, but they can continue to do as they choose to the team that employs them?

It might be any of these factors, it might be a combination, or it could be none of the above. Even when considering four cases on one team when there might not be four total cases combined on the other 31 franchises, there’s a chance it could all just be coincidence. It just would seem very unlikely that the environment isn’t in some way contributing to the actions of the individual.

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