The Dallas Cowboys have received a lot of negative feedback over the last several years claiming they lack strong leadership in their locker room. While players like quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, and former linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware have led by example; there hasn’t been that strong, vocal presence on the team.
The type of leadership retired linebacker Ray Lewis provided for the Baltimore Ravens. Or what former wide receiver Michael Irvin provided for the Cowboys dynasty in the 90s. Quarterback Troy Aikman was a leader during those years as most QBs are for their respective teams. However, it was Irvin who was the heart and soul of that dynasty. He was the pulse of those teams and you can be assured if there was someone who needed to galvanize the team it would have been him. In fact, owner/general manager Jerry Jones voiced this exact opinion in Irvin’s Hall of Fame introductory speech:
"“The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s were champions. They were in three Super Bowls and won them in four years’ time. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you tonight that the heartbeat, the heart and the soul of those championship teams, was Michael Irvin. Michael came to Dallas with a self proclaimed nickname, the Playmaker.”"
Irvin was a passionate player who could will his teammates to a higher level of play. He brought a swagger that he infused into the team that was infectious to everyone in the organization. That swagger may have rubbed some people the wrong way but as a Cowboys fan I loved it and is a reason Irvin remains one of my all time favorite players.
I believe current wide receiver Dez Bryant can bring that same type of leadership to this team. While this will always be Romo’s team, Bryant needs to step up and be that passionate, vocal leader. He needs to take control and be the heart and soul of the Cowboys just as Irvin used to be. We have seen Bryant’s passion cause some sideline outbursts with other teammates in the past. I personally have never viewed these conflicts as being detrimental to the team.
Unlike former receiver Terrell Owens‘ antics, I always felt like Bryant’s outbursts were due to his unwavering desire for the team to succeed. Owens’ tantrums always felt self centered and more for his benefit than that of the team. Jones had similar remarks after one of Bryant’s sideline rants last year when he said:
"“Not in any way did it concern me.” Jones told Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas last October. “It’s not a negative for our team. Matter of fact, when he started that as I saw timing-wise, we started playing better on our offense and the defense didn’t hear it. They were out on the field. It’s not an issue. I’m not trying to make light of it. But he’s a very passionate player and he competes and works and does all the things that give him the collateral to use with his teammates and with me relative to a few awkward moments on the sideline, overexpression of passion. He’s bought enough slack with me.”"
Bryant has all the talent in the world and certainly is in the top echelon of wide receivers in the league. He no longer is a rookie or second year player who needs to know his place among the veterans. In the past, he needed to accept being held in check by players like Witten and Ware. It is time for Bryant to step up and take over the Cowboys. He needs to will his team to a higher level than they have been playing at the last few years.
Bryant can do that by not only being one of the most talented players on the team, but also one of the hardest working ones. Irvin was legendary for out working his teammates in practice during those dynasty years (even if he was out all night partying like he was part of the Rat Pack in the old Vegas days!) In order for the Cowboys to break away from this 8-8 mediocrity, Bryant needs to step up and be the leader I believe he can be.