Friday’s highly anticipated meeting between Jerry Jones and Dez Bryant could mean the end of the receiver’s eight-year relationship with the Dallas Cowboys. If Bryant is released, some will likely refer to him as a salary cap casualty.
The Cowboys salary cap, and the timing of the move, suggest otherwise.
While releasing Dez now would create an immediate $8.5 million in cap space, that money isn’t really needed in mid-April. Top free agents, and the lucrative contracts they require, are no longer on the market.
Furthermore, Dallas already has nearly all the cap room needed to fund their 2018 rookie class. Depending on who gets drafted, they can easily release a player like tight end James Hanna ($2.75M relief) to secure their rookies.
If that’s not enough, all of the cap space the Cowboys could need for the rest of the year should come from reaching long-terms deals with guard Zack Martin and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
Right now, Zack Martin counts $9.3 million against the cap. He received the fifth-year option on his rookie deal which pays him like a lesser version of the franchise tag.
As soon as Martin signs a long-term contract, that cap figure will drop. Dallas will almost certainly do an immediate restructure which could bring the 2018 hit down to as low as $3-$4 million. That’s $5-6 million in relief; all you need to handle the rest of your 2018 business.
Assuming DeMarcus Lawrence also gets a new deal, more savings are coming. The first year salary will drop him from the $17 million franchise tag number to something at least a few million lower. A restructure would drop it even more.
Those deals should be done well before the Cowboys head to training camp in July, which is when they need to have their rookie contracts finalized. Ideally, they would have them done by June 1st to take advantage of any new free agents that may emerge after a new round of cuts.
But don’t let anyone tell you that the Cowboys need Dez Bryant’s money to facilitate the deals with Lawrence and Martin.
The cap hits that DeMarcus and Zack have right now are the highest they will have for 2018. Any new deals will bring those numbers down, so you don’t need another penny of cap relief to get them done.
There is really only one cap-related reason that Dallas might want to cut Dez Bryant, and it’s the potential trade for Seattle safety Earl Thomas.
This notion, discussed heavily for months, may still be on the table. If the Cowboys ultimately decide they want Thomas, his contract demands will be close to $10-11 million per year.
But the increasingly conservative Dallas front office seems unlikely to make this move. Not only does paying top dollar for a 29-year-old safety create concern, but the draft picks that would have to go to Seattle are precious.
What’s more, Dallas could find other ways to clear the space. We’ve already outlined how they could free up over $10 million with the Lawrence and Martin deals, plus cutting Hanna. They could also make Tyrone Crawford a cap casualty if needed.
Dallas could also save $3.25M by cutting receiver Cole Beasley, if they’re okay with losing receivers. That would seem a less painful move now after the signings of Deonte Thompson and with Ryan Switzer entering his second year.
So no, friends, don’t call it a cap casualty.
If Dallas moves on from Dez Bryant, it has more to do with the relationship between team and player. It may be the lack of chemistry Bryant has with quarterback Dak Prescott, or his decreasing production over the last three years.
It may be the wearing down by coaches and teammates with Bryant’s sideline and locker room personality, which becomes far less tolerable if the player isn’t backing it up on the field.
It could be how Dez seems unable to stay healthy. Even though he played all 16 games last year, he missed 10 games from 2015-2016. What’s more, Bryant always seems to be nursing some sort of play-hindering injury.
It also may be the belief that Dez isn’t going to get any better from here. His physical style may have finally caught up to him, leading to an early degradation of physical ability.
Along those lines, it may be frustration that Bryant hasn’t done more to improve the technical side of his game. Now that he’s slipping a little athletically, his deficiencies in route running and other skills are becoming more exposed.
When Jerry and Dez meet, the conversation will involve finances. The Cowboys may want Bryant to accept a pay cut, which could spare them having to cut a guy like James Hanna or make some other move.
But at this point, given all of the other options the teams has to clear cap space, it’s really more about wanting to reset their relationship with the player. The pay cut may be a symbolic gesture; an admission that Dez hasn’t delivered as a franchise WR since getting his new contract.
For all we know, nothing will change after this meeting. Bryant may call the team’s bluff and win, keeping his money and his job for one more season.
After all, Dallas may ultimately decide that losing Dez costs more than whatever the cap space could bring in. They still get a solid starting WR for 2018 and can then cut him next offseason with only $4 million in dead money, as opposed to $8 million now.
But the Cowboys may not be bluffing. Moving on from Dez Bryant may very much be on the radar, and it could happen as soon as tomorrow.
Just rest assured that, if it does happen, it was about more than money.