Dez Performs Like The ‘Playmaker’ Of Old, But All Signs Suggest Bryant Will Never Get Paid Like Him
Back when fantasy was the unquestioned reality at Valley Ranch, Jerry Jones went out of his way to make Dez Bryant the second coming of Michael Irvin. First, he traded up in the draft to get Bryant. The ecstatic owner then gave him Irvin’s old jersey number to wear on Sundays. He even provided counseling help in a time when Bryant’s personal problems threatened to derail a promising career.
That was then.
A contract dispute is now.
What began as a Hall of Fame transformation project in 2010 has entered a new phase in 2015 that will test the dedication and maturity of the Dallas Cowboys’ star wide receiver. It will reveal whether Bryant is simply bent on filling the shoes of a past legend, or has his sights set on re-writing the Cowboys record book and putting America’s Team back on top of the NFL.
Of late, Bryant has been pondering the path of his football life. To stay? To go? To sign? Or not to sign?
It has been far from the holdout of all holdouts for Bryant so far this off-season. He has avoided trading barbs with members of the front-office, and seems anything but inclined to miss the start of training camp. A serious threat of Bryant playing the upcoming season in, say, Washington is equally non-existent, thanks to a franchise tag which Bryant has, thus far, proven hesitant to sign.
In short, there are no worries right now. Let’s face it, the immediate future is as clear as crystal: The Cowboys won’t budge on their offer of a one-year franchise tag deal worth 12.82 million, and Bryant will sign the sheet before the July 15 deadline.
That’s the easy part. What remains murky is future off-seasons to come when the full reality of Bryant’s situation comes home to him.
Bryant has gone on record expressing his desire to finish out his playing career in Dallas. Whether that happens or not will be based upon his ability to come to grips with the fact that he never will be Michael Irvin.
This statement in no way is demeaning of Bryant’s athletic ability or skill as a football player. His production in each of the past two seasons (283 receptions, 3,935 yards, and 41 touchdowns) speaks for itself. But before the laws of emotion and precedent conspire to determine his ultimate fate, it would be best for Bryant to remember that – just like wide receivers – all situations are not created equal.
Bryant believes he is the best wide receiver in the game. And, what’s more, he expects to be paid as one.
Just like he deserves.
Just like Michael Irvin was once upon a time.
Yet, the odds of him getting the contract he so desires is less – far less – than he would like to think. In fact, it’s downright unlikely.
Don’t blame Jerry for this. If it were up to the owner, Bryant would have been wallowing in cash before even last season started. Jones loves Bryant almost like a son, and would like nothing better than to see him justly rewarded for his strides on and off the playing field. Making Dez the highest-paid receiver in the game would be as much of an ego boost for Jones as it would be a relief for Bryant, who weathered through what was a lengthy rookie contract to finally pass Go and hit the jackpot.
But with Jason Garrett around, that’s not about to happen. Not due to the fact that Garrett is the antithesis of his boss, but because Garrett’s status as head coach/team visionary makes Bryant’s presence on the roster something less than a long-term requirement. Yes, the unspoken irony of this holdout situation is that Bryant is hardly an irreplaceable commodity for the Cowboys.
Garrett would be the first to tell you that he would prefer to keep Bryant in Dallas for another five seasons, yet has shown the foresight to plan for the eventuality that he seeks a bigger paycheck in another city. And such are the decisions which legacies are made from. It’s a crossroads that Irvin never was forced to ponder while wearing the star. More than anything else, Irvin became a rich Cowboy for life because his boss wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Irvin’s status as the team’s No. 1 receiver during the 1990’s was protected by management’s misguided notion that solidarity is the best foundation for a roster to sit upon. Excepting Irvin’s final season in 1999 – which lasted just over three games – when he was paired with Raghib Ismail, the Playmaker never had to share the ball with another playmaker-type.
Dez, on the other hand, is very much in the habit of sharing these days, thanks to stellar drafting from the Cowboys over the last handful of years. Word around the league suggests Terrance Williams has all the talent necessary to be a productive No. 1 wideout, and coaches at Valley Ranch rave about his ability to soak up the playbook.
Could Williams be the top dog of the Cowboys’ wide receiving corps in the near future?
It’s not out of the realm of possibility, for sure, and who’s to say whether that thought hasn’t crossed the mind of Garrett once or twice during this offseason. Knowing Garrett, it probably has.
There’s a lot to like about the former Baylor star at this point in his career. Williams’ 6-2, 209-pound frame puts the majority of defensive backs at a disadvantage. A large, strong set of hands enable him to make catches in traffic, and a quick burst after the catch promises the potential for big plays, much like his pair of postseason touchdowns this past January.
While Williams is getting all the attention, another sleeper the Cowboys hope to emerge this summer is Devin Street, who has gained the confidence of Tony Romo enough to have the quarterback ask for offensive coaches to get him more action during games. Romo won’t go out of his way to do that for just anybody. Just ask Roy Williams.
Teams need to feel confident of their investment when offering pricey long-term deals. A player’s position is one factor of the equation. The Cowboys felt that veteran running back Demarco Murray was well worth $24 million over four years, but not the $42 million over five years that Philadelphia gave him.
A player’s age is another factor. In the eventuality that the Cowboys offer Bryant the league-mandated maximum of two franchise tags, then Bryant will be 29 years old by the time he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Franchises are notoriously wary of making earth-shattering deals that will reach well into a player’s thirties, making a good, but not great, offer from the Cowboys even more likely. Whether Bryant can swallow getting paid less than what he feels his market value is will be the determining factor on whether he retires as a Cowboy.
Bryant is, no doubt, frustrated at the stale turn which negotiations have come. Especially in light of the deals which have been reached at Valley Ranch. Cole Beasley has inked a new deal. Orlando Scandrick bargained his way into an extension and a raise. On top of all that, the Jones family then agreed to give Greg Hardy $11 million for one year.
So why doesn’t Dez get the deal he wants?
The answer is as simply complex as the difference between rich and richest. The Cowboys are no longer out to satisfy egos, choosing instead to forge legacies on the gridiron.
That’s the way it should be.
Even though Bryant is a great talent.
Even though he might be worth it.
And even though sentimental hearts would like nothing more than to catch lightning in a bottle from an age and an era long since passed into the happily ever after.