It's doubtful the Dallas Cowboys have a complete understanding of how Dez Bryant will emerge from the current lockout, which is a frightening prospect for a team looking at its 2010 first-round pick and wondering if his immense potential will ever come close to being reached.
What's important to note first, though, is that to a man, you hear that Bryant is neither malicious nor mean-spirited in any way. He just doesn't know any better, in a lot of these cases, as the product of a rough upbringing that robbed him of the learning experience most children have growing up.
"You have to be worried, based on the stuff he's been through and the history of having done it before, it's kind of a pattern with him," said one source. "It's not being able to take care of the things that you'd expect the normal 22 year old to be able to handle. Sometimes, it's the simplest things. And a lot of it is not his fault, it's because of the way he was brought up. He's got a good heart, and the best intentions, but all this stuff happens and it takes away from that."
It's easy to see, in both the recent incident at the mall and with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry he bought, where it might be difficult for Bryant to get normal common-sense concepts that many people have.
To be clear, between the lines of the football field Bryant was, for the most part, fine as a rookie. But in the classroom and around the building, aspects of the job as simple as punctuality were hard for him to grasp and got the stud receiver in plenty of trouble.
The larger issues here are that Bryant knows right from wrong and how easily he could be influenced to make the wrong decision.
Ultimately, the feeling at Valley Ranch is that the Cowboys will remain committed to Bryant, because owner Jerry Jones has built a bridge with him and is always interested in helping turn around the lives of wayward young players. But without current supervision, there are plenty of nerves regarding Bryant's ability to handle the freedom and lack of structure he's now been given.
On one hand, this is a player who would do things on the field to make Cowboys officials say, "I've never seen that before." On the other, he so clearly has what one source calls "a lack of life skills."
What's clear is that the organization wants to help him with that, and pave the way for a long career for Bryant with the team he grew up dreaming of playing for. The trouble is, for now, the Cowboys literally can offer him no help at all.
... and five
1. Lerner moving to Ohio
Here's a piece of news that slipped under the radar this week: Browns owner Randy Lerner told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that he's moving to Northeast Ohio full-time so his son Max can go to high school at St. Ignatius on the west side of town. Lerner has lived on Long Island, N.Y., since assuming control of the team in 2002, and has split his attention between the Browns and Aston Villa, the English Premier League soccer team he owns.
Even if it just symbolic, Lerner's move to the Cleveland area means something to folks there, particularly with more NFL owners sniffing around EPL franchises. The example of the Glazers, owners of Manchester United and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is a model to show the backlash that can be felt with divided loyalties, something that family gets from both sides.
The truth is that Lerner's presence likely won't have a huge impact on the football operation, which Mike Holmgren runs in Berea, Ohio. But it certainly doesn't hurt to have your boss down the hall more consistently.
2. Ravens keeping their own
Another example of how Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has helped developed his organization into the type of place folks want to work: The new contract afforded to director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, who joined the organization when it was headquartered in trailers and fresh off the moving truck from Cleveland.
DeCosta doesn't turn 40 for a few more days, but he's established himself as one of the rising young personnel men in the NFL and has been in the running for a handful of general manager openings in recent years. But with a wife native to the area, and a family happy where it is, DeCosta has been comfortable staying put. That doesn't happen without an organization that is run right.
Like Bisciotti has said, it would take an ideal situation for DeCosta to bolt. If he stays, he eventually succeeds Ozzie Newsome, and based on what's been built in Baltimore, that wouldn't be a bad deal at all.
3. Smooth transition in Tennessee
Most in the Titans organization were overjoyed by the news of Munchak's promotion back in January. His almost collegiate-like dedication to the franchise is recognized by everyone in the building. That means when the whistle finally does blow on the lockout, and it's time for coaches and players to cram for the 2011 season, Munchak should be able to sell his players on the new regime because they will know it's genuine. That will make it easier for coordinators Chris Palmer and Jerry Gray, the veteran NFL coaches Munchak brought in, to go to work.
Again, all this is no guarantee of success. But it should make for a smooth transition in Nashville when the players do return to the office.
4. Decision ahead for Texans
It was interesting to hear Wade Phillips bring up during a conversation this week an instance from his time in Buffalo where, thanks to a slew of linebacker injuries, he had to play a 4-3 front in a win over Miami to make the roster work for him. This was after he repeatedly said that he believed it was important in his first year as the Texans' defensive coordinator that he build the system around the players' strengths, rather than fitting players to the system.
The elephant in the room here is Mario Williams, who is an edge rusher, a skill that would project him to outside linebacker in Phillips' scheme, but also has the size of a five-technique, 3-4 end.
Phillips told me, "He's the modern-day player -- bigger, stronger, faster than guys we've had before."
My guess is that the first priority for Phillips is figuring how to deploy Williams down-to-down and building around that plan, much like he did with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas. Could that lead to playing some 4-3 alignments? Perhaps.
5. Old habits die hard
Finally, some stories came out this week about the future plans of networks and college conferences in the event this lockout spills into the fall. It only underscores how football is insulated in a way that baseball wasn't back in 1994, the year of the work stoppage that has been most referenced when it comes to the "risk" in the current lockout.
I don't happen to think the 2011 season will be called off. In fact, I think most, if not all, of the games will get in after this mess is worked out, though in what form remains to be seen. But what I know is that, no matter what, people won't stop watching football the way they stopped watching baseball back then.
College football might well be the second most popular spectator sport in the country, and high school football is wildly popular in certain regions. People will be watching the sport in the fall. Their habits won't change. And that was the biggest problem for baseball back in the mid-1990s ... folks' routines changed during the strike, and it was awfully hard to get them to change back.