Cowboys call a T.O. on No. 81

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has spent most of the offseason providing vague hints that wide receiver Terrell Owens would return for the 2009 season. It now appears he's decided to go in a different direction.

According to a report from ESPN's Michael Smith late Wednesday evening, the Cowboys have released T.O. In recent interviews, Jones had stressed that wide receiver Roy Williams needed to be the focal point of the offense next season. The Cowboys sent their first- and third-round picks in this April's draft to the Lions for Williams -- and now they've placed even more pressure on him to perform.

Ever since the Cowboys' season-ending 44-6 loss to the Eagles, Jones has maintained that chemistry in the locker room is overrated. He loathes admitting mistakes and that's why many of us thought he would press on with T.O.

This is a clear admission on Jones' part that the team couldn't get to the next level (winning a playoff game) with T.O. If you just go on the receiver's production (38 TDs in three seasons), it's hard to believe the Cowboys would move on without him. But T.O. had become the most powerful voice in the locker room and head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett couldn't compete with him.

Unless they address the receiver position through free agency or the draft, the Cowboys will likely begin the season with Williams and some combination of Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton starting. There will be a push to trade for someone like Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin. But the Cowboys don't have enough ammunition via draft picks to make something like that happen. They'll likely try to rely on Williams, Witten and a potent stable of running backs.

As I recently wrote, here are five reasons the Cowboys needed to dump T.O.:

He's become way too powerful: With no one on the coaching staff capable of holding him in check and an adoring owner serving as an enabler, T.O. has become the most powerful voice in the franchise. He painted perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten as the snitch in Werdergate --and pretty much everyone in the locker room believed him. He's the most charismatic player on the team, causing young players to flock to him.

It was amazing to watch how almost every defensive player aligned with him when he was seeking private meetings with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to complain that Tony Romo obsessed over Witten too much in the offense. T.O. was joined by fellow receivers Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams, who had just 19 catches in 10 games with Dallas.

With a weak head coach in Wade Phillips, there's no one to police T.O. When he called out Garrett for not getting him involved, Jones and Phillips both sided with the player. As a wise man named Todd Haley once told Jones during an interview: "You'll never win anything with [T.O.] on your team."

At age 35, he's a declining player: This is the one that irks T.O. the most. He takes great pride in his body -- as evidenced by his latest book, "Finding Fitness." There's no doubt he can still put up decent
numbers, but they don't make up for how divisive he is in the locker room.

During the 2007 season, he had 81 catches for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. In 2008, he had only two 100-yard games -- and one of those came in a 44-6 loss to the Eagles. In a win over the Packers early in the season, T.O. had two catches for 17 yards. From that point on, teams simply pressed him at the line of scrimmage and he couldn't get open. His best game of the season -- 213 yards against San Francisco -- occurred when 49ers head coach Mike Singletary inexplicably decided to give him a free release.

We all know he's going to drop at least eight or nine balls a season, but the Cowboys can live with that. His apologists will argue that he opens things up for other players on the field. Well, I didn't see it last season. I'll give him some grace for having to play three games with Brad Johnson, but not enough to keep him around.

He's about to devour another quarterback: For two years, Romo was able to avoid the fate of Garcia and Donovan McNabb by always deferring to T.O. But this team desperately needs Romo to take control of the locker room -- and it won't happen as long as T.O.'s around.

Neither one of them would admit it, but they have a fraudulent relationship that's fueled by public tears and touching text-message exchanges. In reality, T.O.'s incapable of trusting anyone who doesn't
go out of his way to constantly massage his ego. When the game's on the line, Romo looks to the player he's more comfortable with -- and that's Witten.

With most receivers, a quarterback would eventually have to take them aside and tell them to shut up. But McNabb tried to do that in the huddle one time and it provided the basis for T.O.'s second book, which was co-authored by the lesser-known Rosenhaus brother. The Cowboys have made a huge investment in Romo, and so far he hasn't lived up to the expectations that he established by playing so well early in his career. I believe that Romo and the Cowboys will never take the next step --
winning a playoff game -- until T.O.'s gone.

The offensive coordinator doesn't know how to use him anymore: For the life of me, I can't figure out why it took Garrett so long to figure out that T.O. needed help getting off the line of scrimmage last season. Players such as Shawn Springs, the immortal Leon Hall and Rod Hood took T.O. out of the game by beating him up at the line of scrimmage. And Garrett and Romo became so focused on trying to keep the receiver happy that the rest of the offense suffered.

The Cowboys will have the t
hree-headed running attack of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice next season. Garrett must take advantage of that strength and not worry how it might impact T.O.'s numbers. To be clear, I think the offense would definitely miss T.O. because of his game-breaking qualities. But at this point, the risk of having a divided locker room isn't worth the positives that he could provide.

I think the guy works as hard as anyone and he actually has some of the attributes of an effective leader. But I've never been around a more emotionally immature player. Whether it's intentional or not, he's eventually going to hurt your team. I think some people at Valley Ranch, including Stephen Jones, realize that. But his father will make the ultimate decision.

Roy Williams would be better without T.O.: After watching Williams for 10 games, that does seem like a dicey proposition. Still, the Cowboys must do everything possible to help Williams. They gave up first- and third-round picks in April's draft for him. He's supposed to be the long-term solution, so why wouldn't you eliminate what could be the biggest roadblock to his success?

At first, Williams thought it was in his best interest to join the T.O. camp. He was part of the delegation that went to visit with Garrett. Now he's had time to realize that he's better off fighting his own battle.
With free agency and the draft coming up, the Cowboys must make a decision on T.O. My gut tells me he'll be released, but Jones hates admitting mistakes.