Special

Special, adjective: otherwise different from what is usual.

To be special is to not be the same as everything else–or at least the majority. Everyone else is short, but you’re tall. Your brothers are fat and slow, but you’re smaller and can run circles around them. Mike Trout. This girlfriend doesn’t freak out when I want to watch the game. Joey Gallo doing Joey Gallo things. People want to see things they can’t usually see, like the Hope Diamond or a Christopher Nolan sci-fi movie. There’s rarely a line at the cubic zirconia counter at Wal-Mart.

Athletes are people, just like us. They happen to make a good deal more money than we do, and an even smaller segment of them make more than any regular person will see in a lifetime–in a year. Athletes aren’t different people, though. The paychecks are perfect, but the people cashing them sure aren’t. They oversleep, overeat, bicker with friends, and lose girls to other people. One of the prices of fame is that their mistakes trend on Twitter, lead local newscasts, and dominate the public consciousness for a period of time. A software programmer who is irresponsible and receives a DUI is able to deal with his problem and mistake with his family and, at worst, his employer. But if that programmer could throw a ball really fast instead of efficiently migrate your website from flash to HTML 5, that DUI is anything but private. Even in situations where the police or city officials don’t leak the relevant information, Deadspin’s automated Google Alerts are there to pick up the slack. When an athlete makes a mistake, we all know. And judge.

Athletes make the same mistake regular people make. Maybe not the same mistake I would make, or you would slip up with. But we all know people who have gotten pulled over while holding. A friend of a friend might have killed someone years ago, and served their time. It’s possible we know a guy who hits his wife. In fact it’s likely that we know the guy, but are unaware that he hits his wife. The mistakes I make are private, are known to only the people involved or those that I choose to bring into confidence. Which is fine, I’m a regular guy. But so is that cornerback that wrecked his car with a .09 BAC. He just happens to make tons of money, so I know about it and criticize. Even though the same thing happened to me last week. My point is, income taxes aside, athletes are people just like the two of you reading this blog.

Another consequence of being rich and famous, apparently, is that you’re required to be a better person. Once you end up in that highest tax bracket, the freedom to make bad decisions is gone and replaced with an eight figure annual salary. Why else would we bemoan a player who makes a mistake as a “bad role model”? Yes, he might have failed as a role model for your son, but why was he one in the first place? Because he’s on SportsCenter, and you’re not? That’s stupid. Making more money doesn’t make you a better person than me, and it doesn’t require you to be held to a higher standard than me. We’re both men (I’ve heard women play sports, but without evidence, I’ll continue to only use masculine pronouns), what’s the difference?

It’s been done for decades, these men we cheer put on a higher pedestal. And what happens? They fail us. They drink and drive. They hurt or kill someone. They gamble on the sport they play. They have children out of wedlock. Sadly, they even kill. When these things happen, the stories and comments no longer contain exclamations of surprise when the quarterback falls from grace, but the disappointment remains. When this is so prevalent, why do people continue to see these (rich and famous) regular guys as role models? The exception is when the player goes his career without making a monumental slip-up. The guy who makes eight figures and doesn’t cheat on his wife or settle his disagreements outside the bar? He’s special.

Why then, do we try to marry what a guy does off the field with what he does on the field? Celebrate the guys who do good, of course. But, they’re the exception. That’s why they’re celebrated–you don’t celebrate every sunrise. A guy who does something deplorable, I think, should be handled just like the guy in the cubicle next to me who does the same thing. Go through the legal system, make amends, and take full advantage of your second chance. Learn your lessons, do better.

I have a problem with how the media is handling the Greg Hardy signing, obviously. Look, he screwed up. Huge. He, by all accounts, beat the crap out of a woman. You can’t do that. But, the legal system has him on the street. He exercised his right to work the system and settle the dispute with a civil settlement subject to a non disclosure agreement. Does that mean that he did (at least) most of what has been reported? Probably. And I hate that he did that, but I’m not losing any more sleep over him doing it than I would the coal miner in Pennsylvania doing it at the end of a shift. Or someone at church who slipped up the same way. It’s not really my business. My business is making sure I don’t do that. My business is making sure that I’m the best role model for my kids that I can be. That guy running fast and (hopefully) knocking the quarterback down? He’s a good football player. Don’t worry about the rest.

It has to be separate. Is it ideal? No. But humanity isn’t ideal. We screwed that up in Eden. Love him on the field, and pray for him off it. If he screws up, I’ll react the same way as if a friend had screwed up. Sadness, and hope for his future.

The Cowboys are being criticized for making the deal, but if you look at the financials of it, it’s not a huge endorsement. By NFL standards he is receiving average offseason roster and workout bonus money. Once the season starts, he’s essentially on a week-to-week deal. That’s both a testament to the number of teams that didn’t want to deal with him and the new way the Cowboys do business. I doubt Jerry Jones knew this kind of contract existed five years ago. I envision him erecting a statue of Henry Melton’s contract outside the new facility in Frisco. And if he does, I’ll get my picture taken beside it.

Between the hashes, this is an amazing turn of events. I still can’t believe it’s happened. I haven’t gone through Pro Football Focus’s assessment of him in previous years, but we all know he’s great. And in his prime. I’m not condoning what the man did, but he went through the legal system just like anyone else (who can afford a top attorney and a financial settlement). I like that they’ve separated the two parts of the person. Someone was going to sign him. He was eligible to play, and too good of a talent to sit out. Why shouldn’t it be the Cowboys? I want to see this and this happen at AT&T Stadium.

Separate the player from the man. Spend more time being a role model instead of looking for one. Do this, and you’ll be set to enjoy the Cowboys 2015 season.

Poppin’ Tags

Not well written, but had to get something out of my mind on Murray. Such a big transition to not say anything.

Free agency, the intensely scrutinized by the media portion anyway, has come and gone. Even though the period technically lasts from the first day of the league year through training camp, the media judge the winners and losers of the entire free agency part of the calendar by the actions of 72 hours. It’s wrong, misleading, and impossible not to watch.

All the headlines and talking heads purport that the Cowboys lost free agency. They’re not listed in the “winners” section of blogs, and more attention is paid to what players left the team instead of the reasons for them leaving. Which is fine, it’s the way the world works. Cowboys fans know that championships aren’t won in free agency. Otherwise, we’d have a lot more Lombardi Trophies than anyone else.

The prevalent line of thought I’ve read and heard regarding DeMarco Murray leaving the Cowboys for Philadelphia has been that the Cowboys have no one to blame for this but themselves. It’s true, the Cowboys can’t blame Murray choosing a division rival who offered more money on a natural disaster or a supernatural creature from another dimension. But I have to say that I’m surprised at how many in the media are 100% sure this is a bad thing for Dallas. By all accounts, Dallas had a number in mind for what they wanted to pay the league’s leading rusher in 2014–both in per year and guaranteed money amounts. They weren’t going to go over that, even if he threatened to switch to a rival. The Eagles, doing who knows what in free agency, were very willing to go over the Cowboys self-imposed spending limit, and added Murray to an increasingly crowded backfield. Jamey Newberg has a litmus test for when a player is considering leaving, or does leave, your team. Picture him in your archrival’s uniform. Are you terrified?

I’m not terrified of seeing DeMarco with eagle wings on his helmet instead of the iconic star. I don’t like it, but it won’t keep me up at night. Going into 2014 the storyline for Cowboys runningbacks was “who is going to pick up for Murray when he gets hurt?” It was an assumption, based on years of evidence. He’s never played healthy for 16 games (he was still hurt in 2014, but was just able to play through it), and it’s hard to assume that he has the injury thing “figured out”. Players rarely get healthier as their careers progress, especially at positions that take beatings like runningbacks. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the year the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the league is the year Murray doesn’t miss a game. The Eagles also have a really good line (PFF had them as the best run-blocking line in the league last year), but they’re still paying him about 8 million per year. That’s a lot. Not only do I think it’s a gross overpay for a player that is all but guaranteed to regress in production and appearances, it hurts your ability to upgrade or retain players at other positions. Thus, you hurt two (or three) positions on your roster with one mistake. I love me some Chip Kelly, but I’m glad he made this move. I want a front row ticket to their dumpster fire.

Mike Greenberg from ESPN tweeted some tweets implying that Murray was dealt with poorly since Dallas didn’t pay him for his performance last year. They offered him what they felt like his future value equated to, and not what he had already done. That’s an idiotic statement, even from an ESPN front man. Any educated fan knows that you don’t pay a player based on what he did do, as opposed to what he will do. That’s the way the league is run now, and it’s a sound strategy. Sometimes, you’ll see a player excel for another team. Most of the time, though, you’ll see examples of why you didn’t offer that big contract. The team who taught the league this lesson is lauded for doing this time and time again. No one says that the Patriots did Darrelle Revis dirty by not paying him to help them win a Super Bowl. The story on that franchise is that “The Patriot Way” dictates that you set a price on the player and let him go if need be. And they’re praised for it. As it should be. But, the Cowboys, and (to some unknown extent) Jerry Jones take a page from that book, and are criticized. Jerry can’t win. If he gives a huge contract to Murray and it blows up in his face in 2015 or 2016, he’s “Same ol’ Jerry”. But the team tries to turn a new leaf, and are called “losers”.

It’s not fair. I get it. It’s not fair that Murray can’t get paid for his past performance. It’s not fair that he can only live the dream that he has worked so long and hard for a few years, and then for the rest of his life is a “former player”. The dream recedes to the back of his mind as a fuzzy memory. It’s not fair that a player I’ve enjoyed watching leaves for a rival. It’s not fair that after dealing with games without Murray he finally plays in all of them, just to move on down the road. It’s also not fair that a guy who can run really fast gets paid more money than some people make in a lifetime. It’s not fair. But it’s the way the world is, and I have to accept it.

Dallas wants to win, and has decided this is the best way. I understand it. I like it. I just wish that I could have it both ways.

Franchise Player

I’ve flown a lot in my life, but every time I get on a plane I worry–just a bit. I know the odds, that air travel is much safer than other modes of transportation. I’m aware that, statistically, I’m in the home stretch when I arrive at the airport alive. Even knowing the odds, I still panic a small amount. It’s because of the risk involved. If I’m on the statistically unlikely (but not impossible, mind you) side of the equation, I’m dead. There isn’t a ton of gray area there.

I’m not sure if losing Dez Bryant to another team would be worse than dying in a plane crash. It might involve just as much pain for my heart, that’s for sure. And, even knowing that the odds are heavily in favor of it all working out okay and both sides walking away with life and limb intact, I worry. I hadn’t realized that the Cowboys were using the non-exclusive franchise tag on Bryant. The exclusive tag would tack on an extra million dollars to Bryant’s 2015 cap number (if my math is right), but would preclude him from negotiating with other teams. The non-exclusive franchise tag lacks the extra million removed from the Cowboys’ salary cap, but allows Bryant to seek a deal with another team. If another team offers him a deal, the Cowboys have five days to match, and if they do not, Dallas receives that team’s first round pick in the next two drafts. This freaks me out because two first round picks is a lot of NFL currency. They’re essentially cash that can be turned into players available at those picks, traded to get a high value free agent, or traded in a package to obtain one of the highest picks in the draft. Those two picks are essentially stacks of cash with Roger Goodell’s face on them.

Would it be worth it to let Dez wear another jersey? It’s tough for me to answer. Those two first round picks can really help the team, and maybe allow them to upgrade enough at the right positions to enable Dallas to win games in spite of lacking an All World receiver. Maybe, in that infusion of young (and cheap, Jerry would remind you) talent is Dez Bryant’s successor. Maybe Calvin Johnson was cloned years ago, and wants to declare for the draft early. That extra first round pick can get you that young superstar. Or one of those picks could be for Tony Romo’s apprentice, the signal caller finally talented enough to take over the team without years of mediocrity in between the two. That sounds really appealing to me.

But, no one knows what those picks will translate into. Will McClay has done a heck of a job running the past few drafts, and was even able to let Jerry Jones accept his Executive of the Year honor in his place, but no pick is a sure thing. I would have bet a pretty penny on Jedeveon Clowney being an absolute beast in 2014. I was driving that bus hard. Now, I don’t even bother googling to make sure I spelled his name right. Even if Dallas used the extra 2015 pick to obtain the Greatest Quarterback To Ever Put On A Helmet, there’s no guarantee that he would live up to expectations. Just like the team would have options of what to do with those picks, we don’t know what that might end up looking like. We all know what it looks like when Dez scores a touchdown. The crowd is cheering, that dove comes down and sits on his shoulder, and the loud voice from above acknowledges that that’s another Dallas Cowboys touchdown brought to you by Miller Lite and number 88. And in him, we are all well pleased.

We know what Dez can do on the field (and, if we squint just right at that grainy footage, off it as well), we have no idea what that kid coming out of college can do. Romo doesn’t have time to wait, even if he knew that the receiver drafted was going to be Dez Bryant, it takes time. Seasons that Romo’s back just doesn’t have.

My heart says that it’s not worth sacrificing my favorite Cowboy to watch for two extra first round picks, and my brain comes around to the idea.

I worry about Dez handling not being happy without a long term deal, if it comes to that when the season starts. Will he show up to training camp? Will he sit out of games? If he does come to camp and dress for games, will he be the same tenacious receiver that we know and defend? I can’t say. No one can, unless you know the guy. I know that I wouldn’t care about next year’s salary if you wanted to give me twelve million today. That’s a problem for future-Ryan to handle. But, football players live a different life, and don’t make much money–if any–after 30. It would be very understandable for him to not be as eager to catch that crossing route across the middle when Seattle comes to Arlington. He might say the right things in interviews. Anyone who says that they know how he’ll react, is lying. We won’t know for sure until/if the situation arises.

Cole Beasley getting a new contract today might affect Bryant’s outlook on things. Ideally his agent, Tom Condon, would have been aware that this was happening, and was able to give him a heads up weeks ago. I think he understands the difference between negotiating a contract with him and Beasley, but he probably won’t be watching ESPN today. The signing that would be worrisome is Demarco Murray. Aside from the fact that I think Dallas should absolutely let him test the market before offering him anything, signing a player at a less valuable football position than his would send a bad message to Bryant. He knows how much easier it is to replace a runningback like Murray than a receiver like him. If things aren’t already acrimonious, that might complete the transition.

Ultimately, I think my fears are for naught. I don’t see Cowboys fans dying in a fiery plane crash of Dez Departure. But, what does an emergency landing look like?

I don’t think I can just pop a Xanax for six months.