After a miserable performance in a must-win game against the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is no longer a $14 million per year player and the franchise has no choice but to make that right this offseason.
Bryant caught three passes for 44 yards against the Seahawks, but dropped a pass that was eventually intercepted and fumbled — a particularly careless fumble, at that — while also having to be taken aside by Dak Prescott (who was also a bit peeved by the drop) after getting vocal on the sideline.
The Cowboys receiver meant well when he went off. He was simply trying to fire up his team, but the problem with those sort of sideline episodes is that you’ve got to be able to lead by example on the field for it to carry any weight.
Bryant didn’t on that particular night and hasn’t mostly for the past three seasons now. Injuries slowed him down considerably in 2015 and 2016, but that wasn’t a viable excuse in 2017 and the numbers still weren’t good enough.
He’ll make $16.5 million against the salary cap next season, but Dallas can save $8.5 million by releasing him. So they need to use that leverage to go to him and ask for him to take a pretty hefty pay cut.
Bryant is still a capable NFL receiver, so it’d certainly be hard to watch him walk simply to save money without anything in return. And he occasionally shows flashes of the player he was to earn his five-year, $70 million contract in the first place, but not frequently enough to justify what they’re paying him.
So the options should be pretty simple. Take a pay cut and stay, because you’ve been important to the franchise and we — we being the Cowboys here — would like to keep you around.
If that’s too hard for Bryant to swallow, you move on and take your savings to invest in a veteran wide receiver and a draft pick or two to develop. If he accepts, you probably still have to invest some of what you saved into another wide receiver to jumpstart things, though it’s less of a need with Bryant sticking around.
Because the passing game needs life and, while the blame falls on a number of people, the most recognizable aspect of its struggles is that Bryant isn’t the big-play receiver he once was. He has 7 catches of 20 or more yards this year and had 19 in 2014 when he cemented himself as deserving of big money and just about every other number you pull from thin air looks bad when compared to the dominant numbers he put up from 2012-2014.
Because of those seasons, he absolutely deserved the contract he got when he got it. But his deal was structured in a way that gave the Cowboys an out after three seasons as insurance against fading performance.
This isn’t the end of the show and things haven’t faded to black, but there’s really no arguing that Bryant didn’t give the Cowboys $17 million (his 2017 cap number) worth of value this year. The productivity has faded.
Even if he is still playing hurt, there’s simply no excusing three years of declining productivity at that price point. So, as unfortunate as it is, it’s time for the Cowboys to give him the honest ultimatum.
Play for less money so we can afford to keep you or best of luck on the open market.
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