Cowboys support Bryant — for now

OXNARD, Calif. — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admits talent often trumps character when building an NFL roster.

“Games aren’t won with Sunday school teachers,” he said.

Jones, though, doesn’t want complete dunces either.

Troubled wide receiver Dez Bryant may soon learn that lesson should he stray from the straight and narrow once again.

Bryant’s recent arrest for domestic violence following a confrontation with his mother was another blight on a player who has already experienced too many of them in less than three NFL seasons. Jones was so angry following this latest incident that he initially refused to speak with Bryant before relenting to provide support — and an ultimatum.

“If Dez doesn’t have football, it’s a personal tragedy for him. He knows that’s at stake,” Jones told me and co-host Gil Brandt on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I’m sure he knows there’s a plane ticket waiting for him if he doesn’t understand that. Without trying to be cute, this is a serious matter.”

That’s saying something considering Jones’ own history with fast-and-loose Cowboys players.

Four years ago on the same preseason practice field, Terrell Owens and Adam “Pacman” Jones had the franchise’s trademark star on the sides of their helmets. Jones was proudly willing to take a risk on both despite the personal baggage they carried.

It wasn’t long before the Cowboys logo had lost its luster.

Adam Jones was cut during the regular season after proving unable to stay away from alcohol and trouble. Owens was released the following offseason for exhibiting the same selfish, derisive traits that led to his departures from San Francisco and Philadelphia. The duo’s failings contributed to Dallas falling short of the playoffs after posting a 13-3 record in 2007.

The Cowboys conveniently forgot about that mess when a receiver with Top-10 skill like Bryant remained available with the No. 24 pick in the 2010 draft. The two main reasons he was still there:

X: Potential suitors were scared away by Bryant’s personal history — particularly a turbulent upbringing and difficult family life that would potentially shape his future as an adult.

X: Signs of irresponsibility. This included frequent late attendance to meetings at Oklahoma State as well as Bryant being declared ineligible during the 2009 season for lying to the NCAA, which was investigating his involvement with a sports agent.

Jones said the Cowboys brain trust collectively signed off on choosing Bryant. That group included then-offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who is now the team’s head coach.

“Jason had significant input on getting Dez,” said Jones, who has final say on all personnel decisions along with his son Stephen. “Jason was here as our offensive coordinator so we were all on the same page. We have all been involved. That’s usually how we make personnel decisions.”

Garrett is now trying to help clean up the mess.

Bryant, who has refused to speak with the media during training camp, has struggled handling the trappings of being a professional athlete despite all the outreach and mentoring attempts that were made by the Cowboys, NFL and former players.

Bryant’s poor financial responsibility was exposed by lawsuits alleging unpaid bills for vanity purchases like jewelry. He was temporarily suspended from a Dallas-area shopping mall last year for behavioral reasons. In January, Bryant was detained by police in January after an incident at a Miami Beach nightclub. He was later released without being arrested.

Bryant has shown flashes of developing into one of the NFL’s top pass catchers over the past two seasons. He had 63 receptions for 928 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, which represented significant progress from his rookie campaign.

Dallas felt confident enough in Bryant and Miles Austin that the team didn’t pick another wideout early in April’s draft or sign an established veteran in free agency even after losing No. 3 receiver Laurent Robinson to Jacksonville in free agency. Jones, though, was critical of Bryant’s conditioning work during the offseason.

Garrett described Bryant as having come from a “very challenging background.”

“That doesn’t excuse any behavior he may or may not have engaged in,” Garrett said. “But we have to understand that as coaches and an organization in trying to help him become what he can be.

“He’s worked very hard on the field and become a much more reliable, disciplined player. He’s in better shape. All those things are evident to us when we watch him practice. He has to continue to grow as a person off the field as well.”

Jones, too, was encouraged by what the team’s support staff is conveying about Bryant since the arrest.

“People in our organization who have spent time with him are telling me that’s he’s probably more attuned, more sensitive, more serious about this than any time they’ve seen him since he’s been a Cowboy,” he said.

Angela Bryant, who made a disturbing 911 call detailing the confrontation with her 23-year-old son, has asked that Texas police not pursue the domestic violence charge. The decision will ultimately be made by the authorities. Even if charges are dropped, Bryant could still be subject to discipline by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Cowboys are working not only with Bryant but his family in trying to reconcile some of his issues. Jones stressed to Bryant that he needs to change his “surroundings” and make “lifestyle adjustments.”

Jones has tried to reach Bryant through personal anecdotes. One was about a US Senator who Jones said once told him, “I used to love to get up on a table and dance. When I became a Senator, I couldn’t do that anymore because they would take that (job) away from me if I did.”

Jones also told Bryant he grew up at a time “when adults could sit at a drive-in (theater) and have a liquor bottle on the side of the car and a drink sitting right there and police all around. You could drive and drink. Society said, ‘That’s no good. We’re doing away with that.’ I agree with that, by the way. People don’t do that anymore. If you do it, you’ll find you can’t work at corporations (or) teach.

“There are a lot of things that used to happen in behavior in the NFL that we don’t want players to do. At one time it was OK. It’s not OK anymore. You’ve got to get that. I don’t care how you grew up or what was done around you. Times change. That’s what I mean by changing surroundings. We’re not talking about my beliefs but as it pertains to Dez, a player or, frankly, an owner. You’ve got to adhere to a certain behavior pattern or you’re not going to be in the NFL.”

Getting booted from the Cowboys would be the first step toward such a fate should Bryant not heed Jones’ advice.