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There's method to Jerry's mad pursuit of Pacman

Jerry Jones' acquisitions of (from left) Ken Hamlin and Terrell Owens have yielded good results. The jury is still out on the signing of Tank Johnson. Ronald Martinez/Paul Spinelli/Getty Images/Icon SMI

When most people look at Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones, they see a troubled player who's on the verge of throwing his career away.

When Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones looks at Jones, he sees a supremely talented player with a cheap price tag.

For a man who's risked -- and lost -- everything in the oil and gas business, extending an opportunity to the most notorious player in the NFL is child's play. In fact, Jones has Pacman right where he wants him.

"Drilling for oil wells is a lot more risky than owning 15 car dealerships or 100 movie theaters," said veteran Cowboys scout Walter Juliff, who is the last holdover from the Tom Landry era. "A lot more of the oilmen end up broke."

Now that Jones officially has reached billionaire status, it's hard to imagine him with empty pockets. But those closest to him say that the benevolence he received from others when he fell on hard times early in his career is what prevents him from giving up on players.

"I know what the right chance at the right time can do to a person," Cowboys Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin recalls Jones telling him. "He said he was flat broke, and that if someone hadn't given him an opportunity, he wouldn't be here today. And more times than not, his gambles have worked out pretty well."

ESPN's Ed Werder reported Wednesday that the potential trade between the Titans and Cowboys appeared to be in jeopardy. The teams haven't been able to agree on draft-pick compensation, and now there's an issue over Pacman's bonus money. Jones, who is fond of saying "don't let your money get mad," will have a tough time leaving the bargaining table. And surely the Titans are aware of their lack of leverage in this deal since they've basically shut the door on the cornerback's returning to Nashville.

As you might recall, Jones didn't exactly endear himself to Cowboys fans in 1989 when his first act as owner was firing Landry and replacing him with University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson. A picture of Jones and Johnson dining at one of Landry's favorite Tex-Mex restaurants in Dallas had appeared on the front page of The Dallas Morning News, which helped solidify Jones' villain status.

It's no coincidence that Jones quickly forged a friendship with Raiders owner Al Davis, who would become something of a mentor. The young Cowboys owner took note of how Davis seemed to almost covet malcontents.

In 1992, Jones hired close friend and former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell as director of college scouting. Soon after starting the job, Lacewell took a call from a 49ers official who wanted to know whether the Cowboys were interested in a talented but troubled defensive end named Charles Haley.

"I'd honestly never heard of the guy," said Lacewell. "I think the note sat on my desk for three or four days before I finally walked it down to Jerry's office. When I told him what it was, he nearly dove over the desk."

Despite his three Pro Bowl appearances and rare pass-rushing ability, Haley had fallen out of favor with coach George Seifert. He reportedly urinated on a teammate's car at the 49ers' practice facility and then erupted in the locker room following a loss to the Raiders in 1991.

The 49ers hadn't been able to find any takers, but Jones offered second- and third-round picks to get the deal done. Later that night, Jones received a message from Davis.

"Congratulations. You just won the Super Bowl."

Actually, Haley helped the Cowboys win three of the next four Super Bowls. In all, he played on five Super Bowl-winning teams.

The Haley trade is always a point of reference for Jones, who has also had his share of misses on players with unstable pasts. The owner signed former first-round draft picks Alonzo Spellman and Dimitrius Underwood in 1999 and 2000. Spellman and Underwood were both diagnosed with bipolar disorders; Spellman had two decent seasons with the Cowboys but Underwood never lived up to his potential.

In 1998, Jones was one of several owners who passed on receiver
Randy Moss in the draft. Moss had been convinced that the Cowboys were going to select him, and he's carried a grudge ever since. At the time, Jones was attempting to repair the team's image, which had taken a major hit when players such as Irvin and offensive tackle Erik Williams had well-documented off-the-field problems.

"At the time, the organization needed to be cleaned up," Lacewell said. "I think Jerry knew he couldn't take Moss even though it was a really tough decision."

When Bill Parcells took over as head coach in 2003, he made character a major issue. When safety Keith Davis was shot while picking up a friend at a Dallas strip club, Parcells didn't wait for an explanation before cutting Davis. On the eve of Parcells' first training camp in San Antonio, the coach made it a point to remind his players why Davis wouldn't be attending camp. After a stint in NFL Europe, Davis returned to the Cowboys in 2004, but Parcells made him lower his pants and display his wound to teammates at the beginning of camp.

In 2006, Jones gambled on a Pro Bowl receiver who'd left an Eagles locker room in shambles. He knew that Terrell Owens needed the Cowboys as much if not more than they needed him. In Jones' mind, he was in a position of strength. And based on the results (28 touchdowns in two seasons), you'd have to say the gamble paid dividends.

Jones might have gambled on Haley and T.O., but those two men are choirboys compared to Pacman, whose interception-to-arrest ratio has taken a hit over the past couple years. Haley and T.O. might have been disruptive in the locker room at times, but they were not talking to police on a regular basis.

Since he was the Titans' first-round draft pick from West Virginia in 2005, Pacman has one of the most notorious time lines in league history, and he hasn't turned 25. Jones is happy to be Pacman's last chance because it won't cost him much. Quite honestly, the man can't help himself. He has this habit of always seeing the best in people -- especially if they have elite return skills.

"I think he's predisposed to seeing the best in anybody," said Lacewell. "You don't hear him talk bad about anyone because he's not wired that way."

The truth of the matter is that Jones thinks he has a strong enough team to withstand any potential distractions from Pacman. With personalities such as T.O. and Tony Romo roaming the locker room, Pacman won't be on the main stage for long. By the end of last season, Terry (Tank) Johnson was just another backup lineman.

As one member of the Titans' organization explained to me, "Pacman is good about 85 percent of the time. But that 15 percent is a freakin' disaster."

For an eternal optimist like Jones, those numbers look pretty clean.

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com.