DALLAS - Lucky Whitehead is innocent. And the Dallas Cowboys owe him a public apology.
Whitehead was accused of shoplifting from a Virginia convenience store, and was subsequently released by the Cowboys on Monday. Dallas cited a "pattern of behavior" in explaining why they cut Whitehead.
Then on Tuesday, Virginia police issued a statement saying Whitehead was misidentified, and the man they arrested falsely provided Whitehead's identification. Whitehead and his agent even provided flight records to prove he wasn't in Virginia at the time of the incident.
Although the Cowboys tried to be vague enough in their reasoning for releasing Whitehead, the timing in which they did it was atrocious. Dallas executives clearly didn't have all the facts (and neither did the police for that matter) and just wanted a head to roll after an offseason that featured several blunders.
And this latest faux pas comes at possibly the worst time for the Cowboys.
In the past two months, Dak Prescott has been accused of using a machine to sign autographs. Along with an ongoing NFL domestic violence investigation that could result in a suspension, Ezekiel Elliott was also involved in an altercation at a Dallas nightclub two weeks ago.
Terrance Williams was recorded by TMZ in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club, shirtless and racing someone on foot. Dez Bryant and David Irving were both late reporting to training camp, with Irving failing a drug test back in the spring.
Instead of putting a tumultuous offseason behind them, Dallas now enters training camp with unwanted outside attention on top of unanswered questions – and is on the verge of a collapse of their clubhouse culture.
Given the slew of headlines the Cowboys have made since January, some, including myself, are beginning to wonder – did Dallas' one season of short-lived success go to some player's heads?
Or are these Cowboys naive enough to think they're invincible, and immune to public opinion?
This isn't just about one player. This is about everyone on the team.
Being in the NFL, much less a Dallas Cowboy, requires an elevated level of responsibility.
In short: everyone is watching you.
Too many times since their last game in January, Cowboys players have made the news for all the wrong reasons.
Showing up late to camp may seem like a small issue easily cast aside, but when almost every national media outlet reports on it, suddenly that minor gaffe turns into locker room noise.
The Cowboys may have had a great season last year, but past success does not guarantee future performance – especially when Dallas got bounced in its first playoff game. It takes years, sometimes decades for teams to build winning cultures and take home championships.
And let's not forget this – Prescott and Elliott are only in their second season in the league. While both exceeded expectations and had tremendous rookie years, they still have only played 17 NFL games.
And have yet to win a playoff game.
That's an awfully small sample size, but Dallas has pushed all-in behind two high-octane young players who have taken the entire NFL by storm.
For all we know, the Cowboys may have just caught lightning in a bottle last season.
There are still six weeks left before the regular season starts, but it's important for Dallas to start correcting these problems now so they don't happen again.
Jason Garrett talks ad nauseam about his players doing things the "right way."
If the Cowboys want to build on the success they had last season, they better start listening sooner rather than later.
How do you feel about how the Cowboys handled the Lucky Whitehead situation? Share your thoughts with Reece on Twitter @ReeceWaddell15.
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