You can see this unfolding with owner Jerry Jones feeling his Super Bowl season slipping away – a prime opportunity falling to 2-4 and fading fast. Then he looks away, but only in one direction: to stare at the locker-room door, waiting for quarterback Tony Romo to swoop in with a cape on. Meanwhile, on the other end of the room, Greg Hardy is doing whatever he wants. Frankly, he's making Jones look bad, and I'm not sure the Cowboys' owner even cares anymore.
Never mind the long view of facts, which include this NFL cornerstone owner calling Ray Rice's spousal abuse "intolerable." Jones followed up that declaration by gifting Hardy millions in a pay-for-play contract. Jones then extended his generosity even further, all but suggesting Hardy's innocence at one point, despite Jones' own daughter (and team vice president), Charlotte Jones Anderson, previously calling Hardy's signing an "incredible opportunity" to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Let's set aside that smudged record for just a moment and focus on the here and now. Consider the spare few weeks Hardy has actually been an active member on the Cowboys' roster. In less than three weeks, Hardy has graduated from remarkably tone-deaf statements to reporters to acting like a lunatic on the sideline. And yeah, stuff like this happens in the NFL. Players say stupid things and get into flare-ups with teammates. It's an emotional game. We get it.
But this guy has been a bona fide Dallas Cowboy – on the active regular-season roster – for less than a month. And in that time, he has now been a public relations problem, argued with Dez Bryant, and put his hands on an assistant coach. All of this on national TV. I emphasize the part about Hardy going nuts on special teams coach Rich Bisaccia for a reason. Not just because Hardy has a history in the area of inappropriately placing his hands on people – but because this is another very real line that got crossed. And Jerry Jones? He's whistling and going about his business.
"He's, of course, one of the real leaders on this team and he earns it and he earns it with respect from all of his teammates," Jones said of Hardy after the latest incidents during a 27-20 loss Sunday to the New York Giants. "That's the kind of thing that inspires a football team.
"He's just getting guys ready to play in my view. I don't have any issue with him being involved in motivating or pushing in any part of the football team, because he plays and walks the walk."
Consider that very carefully. That's Jones not only saying what Hardy did this weekend is perfectly OK, but it's a good thing. You can only wonder if Jerry feels that way because he might have gone after his special teams coach himself if he had the opportunity. But whatever the reason, he advocated it. So did head coach Jason Garrett and some of Hardy's teammates.
So that's where this has landed. Hardy has spent one training camp and two regular-season games with the Cowboys. He's got three sacks and eight tackles. The team hasn't won a game with him on the field yet. But he's been given this monumental gift: He can say stupid things and argue with Dez Bryant and even manhandle the special teams coach. Why? Because he's a leader? Because he earned it? Has Jones seriously set the bar this low for Hardy? Does he need him so badly that he can't even admonish a player for putting his hands on a coach in the middle of a game? What if that were Garrett? Would it be OK then? And what does all of this say to the rest of the team?
Here's what it says to the public: The biggest offseason gamble in the franchise is now running the show in Dallas. Dez better stay out of his ear. The coaching staff better stay out of his way. The owner has given his blessing. That's how desperate the Cowboys are for an elite pass rusher. That's how desperate Jerry is for one more title. At this point, Hardy could probably hijack Jerry's party bus and light it on fire. Jerry would respond in kind with something like, "Oh, he's just being a rascal."
I look at all of this, and I think back to what Cowboys great Troy Aikman first said of the Hardy signing. I think of how right he was, and how naïve he was.
"[Hardy] is here because he is a pass rusher, no matter what else is said about it," Aikman told the Dallas Morning News last March. "I am hopeful that whatever did happen [in Hardy's past] he's learned from it and maybe he can be an advocate to create some change."
You can judge for yourself whether Hardy has stimulated any "change" in the last seven months. Or if all the things Jones' daughter said about Hardy were nothing more than public relations shadowboxing.
"Not only do we take [Hardy's past] seriously, we want to make sure he takes it seriously," Charlotte Jones Anderson told the Dallas Morning News. "We need to be forthright in that and make sure we are comfortable that he does. There was an agreement that we were in that place."
Maybe Jerry Jones has forgotten that agreement. Maybe he doesn't care. Or maybe everything Hardy has become was part of the bargain. But this is turning into a deal that is making Jones and his franchise look like sellouts. And no championship is more important than that.
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