The Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday released cornerback Tyler Patmon, a surprise move in the sense that he was the first-unit slot corner on a team with some depth issues at the position with Orlando Scandrick already long-gone with a season-ending ACL injury in the summer and now Mo Claiborne battling through a re-aggravation of his hamstring injury.
I asked coach Jason Garrett about his motivation for the move.
“Performance-related,” Garrett said cooly. “This is just an evaluation of the body of work and what we’re asking our nickel to do. Over time, he’s gotten a lot of opportunities and we feel like we’re going to give someone else an opportunity to do that job right now.”
That "someone else'' is newly-acquired cornerback Terrence Mitchell, a 2014 seventh-round pick of the Cowboys who has bounced around the league since then, is presently on the Dallas practice squad, but on Tuesday jumped right into first-unit slot corner work. He'll have that job on Saturday night as the 4-9 Cowboys host the Jets. Deji Olatoye is working as the backup to Claiborne and Carr.
But is that really all their is to the move? No.
Patmon made his mark early on here as a fighter; I mean that in the literal sense and you know what I mean if you recall the Patmon-Dez Bryant trainiong camp fight, which, once it cooled, left Dez himself with a positive impression of his old Oklahoma State mate.
""He's fighting for respect and he got mine,'' Dez told me then. "You go to war with a guy like that any day of the week.''
Well, not this week.
Cowboys sources say tha "fight'' wasn't there in Green Bay. This is where Patmon's alleged "lack of physicality'' comes into play. Those whispers from the Dallas staff ring true when you watch film of the Packers game. Yes, Patmon is 5-10 and 187 pounds and if you wanted "physical,'' why did you release the 6-1, 205-pound Corey White? (And no, it wasn't because he's a crummy dresser.)
But Patmon, in the parlance, didn't "stick his nose in there'' on enough Packers plays.
So there's 40 percent. Effort.
What about the 40-percent performance? Garrett is telling the truth in addressing that portion of this. Patmon has missed on some plays, most notably a potential pick-six in the OT loss at New Orleans. But here's the play n Green Bay that most bothered the coaching staff in regard to "performance'':
That's a wheel route from running back James Starks, and it's a key play in the game. It's Patmon's man. He should be physically able to run with the running back and he should be mentally aware of the fact it's his job.
Patmon appears to be neither. ... in fact, he is so lost here that he barely appears in the camera's range as Starks is running right and Patmon is running in the other direction.
And there goes "40 percent performance.''
But here's what Garrett and the Cowboys coaching staff will never say publicly: The Tyler Patmon release is also about "sending a message'' to the rest of the roster. ... the 20 percent.
There are three games remaining. The Cowboys need to win them all to have a playoff shot; inside Valley Ranch there is an awareness of how unlikely that is, but they must think that way. At the same time, now is the appropriate moment to evaluate for the future. Who can fight through this now? Who is mentally and physically enduring enough to continue being a professional through adversity? And is there a player failing in those areas who can be used as a tool to remind the other 62 men in the Valley Ranch locker room that, as Jeremy Mincey said this week, "We're here to be entertainers but we also have to conduct ourselves like professionals''?
Garrett and his coaching staff needed that message sent. This isn't about RedBall suddenly "wanting to act like Jimmy Johnson''; Johnson, Garrett's coach here in Dallas in the '90s (Garrett of course was with Johnson on Dallas’ 1992 and ’93 championship teams as a practice-squad player and then as a third-string quarterback) has served as a mentor to Jason, as have other tough-guy coaches like Tom Coughlin, Nick Saban and Jason's own father. "Sending a message'' is standard fare ... as long as the talent (or lack thereof) allows it and as long as the salary cap allows it.
Jimmy Johnson famously send a kicker to "the asthma field'' in his initial season in 1989 but did so fully aware that the cameras were rolling and that the kicker, free agent Massimo Manca, was not destined to make the team. (I assure you if Greg Hardy -- who has asthma -- would've played on Jimmy's '90's teams, Hardy would not have been sent to "the asthma field.'')
Believe me ... Jimmy always knows when the cameras are on him ...
Jimmy cut Curvin Richards to "send a message'' to the Super Bowl-bound 1992 Cowboys but he also did so because a) Curvin fumbled twice in one quarter in a meaningless season-ending game and b) Curvin was never going to touch the ball in the playoffs, with Emmitt Smith as the bellcow and fullback Tommie Agee available just in case.
Jimmy cut John Roper to "send a message'' to the Super Bowl-bound 1993 Cowboys but he also because a) Roper fell asleep in a meeting and b) Roper was an unimportant cog in that defense's machine.
So this was iron-fisted Jimmy enforcing some hard-and-fast disciplinary rule? Nah. As Johnson later admitted: "In Dallas we had a linebacker named John Roper who got cut for falling asleep in a meeting. If Troy Aikman fell asleep in a meeting, I'd go over and whisper, `Wake up, Troy.' "
Jason Garrett didn't cut Tyler Patmon because of Jimmy, exactly. But the move is made in the spirit of Jimmy, and in the spirit of Saban and Coughlin and Jim Garrett and most every coach who must evaluate and act on physicality and psychology by pushing every button ... and sometimes by pushing the Curvins and the Ropers and the Patmons out the door.