Before the start of yesterday’s NFL action, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Cowboys’ support for defensive end and accused domestic abuser Greg Hardy was beginning to wane:

Then came a report from ESPN.com’s Jean-Jacques Taylor, in which it was revealed that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had met with Hardy to discuss his continued inability to avoid bad press. Jones wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the meeting when confronted about it, but had plenty to say about Hardy:

“He is aware that everything he does — his personality, his style, his enthusiasm — it’s all going to be interpreted negatively,” Jones said. “If he’s not aware of that, then he’s hurting a lot of people.

“I think he really gets that. We certainly feel that way. He understands it, and he has agreed to really work on it.”

[...]

“If anyone knows how to hunker down, it’s me,” Jones said. “I know when you’ve lost all your benefits of the doubt and you so much as run as a stop sign or step out of bounds you’re fixing to answer a lot of questions.”

Jones has repeatedly expressed his support for Hardy since signing him, and although this secret meeting doesn’t really mark a change in attitude, it does suggest that Jones is growing weary of Hardy continuing to do stupid shit—like proclaiming his innocence on Twitter, fighting with teammates and coaches, and making sexist comments about an opponent’s wife—that keeps him in the news cycle.

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Whether Jones and the Cowboys really care about Hardy reforming as a human being is beside the point, because all they really need from him is for him to shut up and play football—to “hunker down,” as Jones put it. The reformed-athlete playbook is a simple one to follow, because it mostly involves a lot of silence. Jones must look at the quiet, productive season Adrian Peterson is having in Minnesota and long for Hardy to just keep his mouth shut.

But this is the risk the Cowboys took when they jumped at the chance to sign Hardy at a discount, and then defiantly supported him through waves of valid criticism. The Cowboys are finally at full strength and still trying to scramble their way into the playoffs, and so they need Hardy’s on-field production more than ever. They can’t cut him, so they have to resort to come-to-Jesus talks with Jones and mild public shaming through the media to try and solve their problem.

Meanwhile, head coach Jason Garrett is possibly cutting guys for not wearing suits, perhaps to make some kind of statement about “taking control” of the locker room. It’s a statement that would be much better made by cutting the guy who’s done nothing but cause problems since joining the team, but this is what it looks like when a team that is decidedly not in control tries to take charge.

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