FRISCO - Ezekiel Elliott's early-week response to reports of conflict between disgruntled players and Mike McCarthy's coach staff was a wise one.
"Look in the mirror,'' Zeke tried to tell everyone inside The Star.
Instead, the Dallas Cowboys, as an organization, decided to look not in the mirror, but rather, at the messenger.'' And then to "shoot the messenger.''
"It is just absolutely irrelevant and very, very, very irresponsible,'' Cowboys owner told 105.3 The Fan. "Did you think it has any credibility? Think about it. Do you think it has any credibility? ... Credible what? Bulls--t."
Some players responded with similarly strong words, highlighted by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch's comments.
“I think if you’re going to put it out there and not put your name on it, I think you’re an absolute coward,” he said. “Simple as that. Own up to it.”
There is nothing wrong with the Cowboys 'circling the wagons'' here following Jane Slater's NFL Network report quoting a pair of players saying the coaching staff is “totally unprepared. They don’t teach. They don’t have any sense of adjusting on the fly'' and “They just aren’t good at their jobs.” "Circling the wagons'' might help 2-4 Dallas win at Washington today, and that's ultimately what all of this is about.
McCarthy was smart to announce in public his open-door policy (and it is assumed he followed through in-house.). Sean Lee and others were smart to tell Cowboys Nation, in essence, "everything is going to be OK.''
But the Cowboys stumbled in other key areas that reveal some truths - including that everything is not OK.
One, as we've reported here while using the word "disconnect'' for more than a month: Cowboys players have gone to their coaches to register unhappiness with certain aspect of the team's plan, including the defensive-system change. Furthermore, Cowboys players have "put their name on it'' in public, highlighted by Jaylon Smith's media discussions about the aforementioned system and DeMarcus Lawrence media discussions about playing "soft.''
We can report as fact that Smith and Lawrence said those things in-house before saying them in public. And then we can ponder whether anybody in-house listened.
Two, the assumption that there are only "two unhappy players'' is wrong. We can report that there are handfuls of players - on offense and defense - who have at different points in the last month grumbled about issues with the coaches. The coaching staff's "stubbornness'' is an issue that has come up often.
Three, Dallas' "attack mode'' here claims a pair of innocent victims. One is Slater, who drew the specific ire of Jerry Jones in that radio interview. Jones is off-base in questioning her credibility, and DFW media members (apparently attempting to curry favor with Jones or McCarthy) who've wondered the same thing are off-base as well.
In fact, Slater's report could've been even more damning - just as our reports of a "disconnect'' could. But 99 percent of the people who do this for a living have no desire in "destroying'' anybody; we're trying to paint an accurate and fair picture of our beat.
The Cowboys are 2-4. The "accurate and fair'' pictures we paint of them right now are naturally less than pretty.
The suggestion that Slater "made this up'' is beyond insulting. But just as Jones said McCarthy is a "big boy'' who can take the criticism, so is Slater an adult who can do the same. But this story isn't about the reporter - or about the Cowboys pretending they don't understand or find distasteful the use of "anonymous sources,'' a necessary tool in our business ... as the Jones family itself knows very well.
This story is about whether the Cowboys are going to fix the "disconnect'' ... or yell so loudly at media people who point it out that they become a franchise in denial ... leaving the problem un-fixed.
We know as fact that this story isn't "bulls---.'' We assume as fact that the Cowboys locker room is occupied by concerned and frustrated men and not occupied by "cowards.''
That, though, should be the most troubling aspect of this story for Cowboys Nation. Maybe these are good coaches who are coaching poorly. Maybe these are good players who are playing poorly. Maybe with the installation of a new scheme combined with the marriage of coaches and players made more difficult by a COVID/no-camp summer, the disintegration of disgruntlement takes time.
Or maybe Vander Esch is right, and that "sources'' represent "cowards.'' Which means The Star is dirty with cowards ... which is why the Dallas Cowboys are a lousy football team.