One year ago in this space, we had a conversation about the Cowboys' standing in the NFL as it pertained to discipline. In that piece, I was reacting to the Cowboys' overall view in their press briefings that while the Cowboys deal with some issues with suspensions and league discipline, they are quick to point out that this is not a Cowboys issue. In their view, it is an NFL issue. Yes, Dallas deals with it, but so does everyone else.
My reaction last year was roughly what it is today. Dallas' tolerance for risk and then for failed risks is too much when they lead the NFL in both categories that matter in this discussion: total suspensions given by the league to each team and total man-games lost to those suspensions. If the Cowboys had a high number of suspensions but they were for one game each, maybe this is no big deal. If they had two suspensions but for many games, then we would say it is a few isolated incidents. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Cowboys led the NFL in both categories. And to make matters worse, they lead them both by a healthy (or quite unhealthy) margin.
Here is the list that summarizes this issue that has shown no signs of slowing down.
So, here we are 12 months later. The Cowboys have been doing nothing since training camp opened but addressing various disciplinary issues on their team. The latest is their handling of Lucky Whitehead and his release following some off-field issues that appeared unworthy of a league suspension, but the team had enough of his actions on and off the field (they suggest).
Fine. But, Damien Wilson will surely receive league discipline for his bizarre behavior during an aggravated assault arrest earlier this month. Ezekiel Elliott is still anyone's guess, but those who are in the know sure seem to expect something to be handed down from the league. David Irving is going to miss the first four games. Randy Gregory has cast doubt on whether he will ever be on the field again. And some fellow named Shaq Evans was suspended back in April as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, despite the fact that many people paid to cover the team had never heard of him before his failed test results. I also should mention Nolan Carroll's DWI arrest, as well.
Basically, this epidemic of Cowboys discipline started surfacing in great numbers back in 2014. I believe the first one to hit was Orlando Scandrick on a suspension that was dropped from four games to two by the league. From there, the Cowboys heard from the NFL 15 times in 36 months on suspensions that have totaled 100 games.
Now, as you can see, a few names have shown up a lot of times. And, we can also say that much of this list is because the Cowboys have not been shy about grabbing players with pre-existing issues.
Rolando McClain was a player most of the league would not touch. The Cowboys did, he gave them a tremendous performance for a big part of 2014 on the field. And then put 30 games of suspension on their ledger ever since.
Greg Hardy was a player most of the league would not touch. The Cowboys did, and therefore were the team he was employed with when he received his suspension for something he did before he arrived. Four games.
Randy Gregory was a player most of the league would not touch. The Cowboys did (and I was happy they did, full disclosure). He has flashed a time or two on the field, but to this moment in time, he has also added a full 30 games of suspension to their ledger.
So, those three players alone total seven suspensions for 64 games. Of course, that also means that they have eight other suspensions (at the moment) for 36 more games. As you can see from the chart below, that would still put them among the most disciplined teams in the league even without Gregory, Hardy, and McClain.
As it stands, the Cowboys have 15 suspensions for 100 games. Nobody else has more than 10 suspensions and nobody else has more than 55 games lost.
Yet, we will continue to hear about the "right kind of guy" and the "strong character" that Jason Garrett likes to preach whenever he gets a chance. I submit there is tremendous character here on this roster. I think there are plenty of guys anyone would take. That isn't the issue.
The issue is whether the Cowboys should A) take fewer chances on players with pre-existing issues they are dealing with and B) should show less tolerance when a player they employ violates the league rules.
But, as we saw Tuesday, the Cowboys gained an advantage by taking CB Jourdan Lewis when nobody else would until the third round in April's draft. He had a court case to attend and was found not guilty of his charges. Did their chance pay off? I guess we won't know until Lewis demonstrates that he is nothing but a professional for his Cowboys career. Check back in a few years. But, today, it appears the Cowboys got a talent for a discount because they weren't scared of his court situation.
Of course, when Randy Gregory arrived, we were saying the same thing. It turns out they did not pull one over on the rest of the league with him.
So, one year later, the Cowboys have actually lengthened their lead on the rest of the NFL in disciplinary issues. They have not stopped situational gambling with talent acquisition and they also haven't severely altered how they deal with those who do step over the line. Sorry, we cannot count Lucky Whitehead's bizarre case in this experiment. He was being cut the moment Ryan Switzer was drafted.
Is this an issue with the Cowboys? That is a matter of opinion.
But, what isn't a matter of opinion are the totals around the league. Yes, the league has issues and every team has players who violate the policies. But, most teams are under five suspensions and 20 games missed.
This team is at 15 suspensions and 100 games missed. They are going to do what they are going to do and Jerry Jones will continue to cite Michael Irvin, Charles Haley, and Nate Newton as examples of how his "wildcatting" has struck oil over and over again.
But, those examples from the early 1990s seem to suggest that the results have not been quite as fertile ever since. It is also somewhat illuminating that many of the teams on the "most suspensions" list are not what you would call league heavyweights.
Maybe, next year at the 2018 training camp, the Cowboys will be doing this differently and I won't have to update this post again.
Or, it will remain our annual tradition of fact-checking the idea that this Dallas issue is really the same as the rest of the league. Spoiler: It isn't.