OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys finally responded to a tumultuous offseason with the release of a player, dumping Lucky Whitehead on the first day of training camp after the third-year receiver and kick returner was linked to a shoplifting arrest that his agent disputed.
Whitehead said he “didn’t know about” the case in his home state of Virginia as he was escorted off the field by a member of the Cowboys’ public relations staff after the first morning walkthrough practice Monday morning. He was released before the full workout in the afternoon.
Prince William County Police Sgt. Jonathan Perok said 25-year-old Rodney Darnell Whitehead Jr. was arrested around 1:30 a.m. June 22 for taking about $40 worth of food and drink from a convenience store.
Perok said he couldn’t confirm that the man arrested was the Dallas receiver, but online records matched his name and birthdate. The Cowboys’ media guide lists Whitehead’s given first name of Rodney.
According to online records, a court date was missed July 6, leading to another charge. Another court date was set for Aug. 10.
Whitehead’s agent, Dave Rich, called it a case of mistaken identity and disputed whether an arrest was made.
Rich said his client didn’t arrive in Virginia until about 10 hours after the reported arrest, suggesting that either police had the wrong date on the report or that someone used Whitehead’s name and address in Manassas, Virginia, where he played high school football.
The Cowboys moved swiftly in releasing Whitehead after two defensive players were arrested during the offseason.
Cornerback Nolan Carroll was arrested on a drunken-driving charge in May, and linebacker Damien Wilson on aggravated assault charges in July. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott was involved in a bar fight in Dallas last week, but wasn’t named in the police report.
Dallas already has two defensive players suspended to start the season in pass rushers David Irving and Randy Gregory.
Carroll and Wilson could join them, and the NFL has been investigating Elliott for about a year over a domestic incident, putting him at risk of a ban under the league’s personal-conduct policy.
“After all this stuff that’s happened with the Dallas Cowboys organization over the last two or three years, whether you’re a fan or not, you follow it,” Rich said.
“You don’t cut a guy like this after hearing it unless you don’t believe him. They’ve given guys second chance after second chance. They didn’t believe my guy.”
Executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones dismissed the idea that the Cowboys were finally taking action against a player after an offseason filled with trouble. He said the decision on Whitehead was an accumulation of incidents, without providing specifics.
Whitehead was late to a Saturday walkthrough before a game at the New York Giants last December, and coach Jason Garrett told him not to join the team flight. He was also involved in a car accident that Garrett learned about through media reports last year.
“I don’t think it’s anything to do with anybody else,” Jones said. “We feel like we’ve given Lucky a lot of different chances along the way going back to last year and I think just decided it was time to go in a different direction.”
Garrett said any case of mistaken identity was beside the point for the Cowboys.
“In handling the situation and evaluating with the authorities there and in talking to him, we just didn’t feel like it’s in the best interest of the Cowboys to have him with us,” Garrett said.
Garrett rejected a comparison between the more serious charges facing Carroll and Wilson and the lesser one facing Whitehead.
“We have a number of players who through their career, they’ve made mistakes,” Garrett said. “We’ve held them accountable. They’ve responded the right way and they’ve done a great job for our team both on and off the field. If a player isn’t ready to respond to that, time and time again, it’s time to move on.”
The Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round, and he stood out during offseason workouts while Whitehead nursed a hamstring injury. Whitehead’s roster spot was already in jeopardy.
Whitehead emerged as an undrafted free agent at training camp two years ago, but never developed into a threat as a returner or receiver. He was most effective taking handoffs on misdirection plays.
“That stuff can’t come up,” 15th-year tight end Jason Witten said. “We understand what is expected of us. We are going to stay close together. That is what this team does. Keep the standard really high. It’s a strong message to our entire football team. All of us, myself included.”