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OXNARD, Calif. — Leave it to the Dallas Cowboys to christen their first practice of training camp with another dose of embarrassment stemming from off-field drama.
Monday, it was Lucky Whitehead … who seems destined to wind up in the Shoplifting Hall of Shame.
As the Cowboys went through the paces of a walk-through session, news spread that Whitehead, a backup receiver and returner, was the subject of a warrant stemming from a missed court date following his arrest last month in Virginia. A few hours later, Whitehead was released.
Whitehead, 25, the third Cowboy (joining Nolan Carroll and Damien Wilson) arrested this offseason, joins a growing list of players involved in episodes that sully the franchise’s image. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott could be facing a suspension from the league amid allegations of domestic violence last year, and defensive linemen Randy Gregory and David Irving have both been suspended for drug violations.
Whitehead is also the second Dallas player in three years with a shoplifting rap, following since-released running back Joseph Randle’s arrest in 2014. Whitehead’s incident, allegedly for petty larceny of items under $200, occurred June 22. The warrant was triggered after he failed to appear for a hearing July 6.
“I didn’t even know about that,” Whitehead, seeming to refer to the warrant, blurted out to reporters as he was escorted to the locker room following the light practice. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
That went double for head coach Jason Garrett. Like others in the Cowboys front office, he didn’t have a clue about Whitehead’s situation. Garrett was blindsided by the revelation, first reported by TMZ, first learning of the issue when he was informed after practice.
“We’re trying to gather information as quickly as we can,” said Garrett, who met briefly with Whitehead after practice. “Once we get the information, we’ll decide what to do.”
But it didn’t take long for the Cowboys to decide release their leading returner.
Just Sunday, Garrett vehemently defended his team’s character and the organization’s standards, which are increasingly under fire. Now this.
After meeting with Whitehead following the morning session on Monday, Garrett told reporters, “We’re trying to gather information as quickly as we can. Once we get the information, we’ll decide what to do.”
It didn’t take long. Whitehead was gone before the afternoon practice.
“We just decided it was time to go in a different direction,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president for personnel. “We made a decision and we moved on.”
In parting ways with Whitehead, Garrett added teeth to his words about accountability. In meeting with Garrett and other team officials, Whitehead was hard-pressed to provide an explanation for why a player slated to earn a $615,000 salary in 2017 would wind up charged in a shoplifting fiasco.
“There’s a certain way we want to handle ourselves, on and off the field,” Garrett said following the afternoon practice. “There’s a standard that we have. We believe very strongly in adhering to those standards and trying to uphold them, each and every day, in everything that we do. When we don’t do that, we do everything we can as an organization to hold players and everyone in the organization accountable to what those standards are.”
Whitehead’s agent, David Rich, claimed it was mistaken identity. Rich told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that Whitehead wasn’t even in Virginia at the time of the arrest – and that flight records prove that the receiver had a flight to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia six hours before he was reportedly arrested for taking items from a Wawa convenience store.
The Cowboys, though, are convinced that Whitehead, whose given name is Rodney, was indeed the person arrested – with a matching name and social security number.
Beyond the bizarre arrest, Whitehead burned a bridge by not even informing Garrett or others in the organization that there had been an arrest during a return to his hometown following a minicamp.
Without the incident, Whitehead’s status with the team was already tenuous. He came to camp likely fighting for the last of maybe six receiver spots on the roster, and with the Cowboys having invested a fourth-round pick in Ryan Switzer, who was also a dynamic returner at North Carolina.
As it turns out, Whitehead’s name surfaced in a surreal episode for the second time in as many weeks. Last week, he went public in seeking help in finding his pit bull, Blitz. On a social media post and in a television interview, Whitehead contended that his dog was kidnapped and that a ransom of $10,000 and then $20,000, was demanded. Blitz was ultimately returned, after which authorities apparently considered pursuing action against Whitehead for filing a false police report.
But the missing dog was hardly the only issue facing Whitehead, who is just the latest problem for a team with several.
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell
PHOTOS: NFL players suspended in 2017