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Seriously, Could Down Season Lead to Dez Bryant’s Release?

Jess Haynie

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Dez Bryant

While we never like to think of our favorite players being released, Dallas Cowboys fans have faced this reality twice in recent years. The departures of DeMarcus Ware in 2014 and Tony Romo just a few months ago make it clear that few players, if any, are safe. Could Dez Bryant be joining them soon?

After this season, Bryant's contract will give the Cowboys options. He will count $16.5 million against the salary cap and only have $8 million left in guaranteed money. Dallas could release him outright for $8.5 million in cap relief, or use the June 1st-provision to split that up to just $4 million dead money in 2018 and 2019.

Could the Cowboys possibly consider letting go of Dez Bryant?  What sort of 2017 performance would he need to have to take that option off the table?

Dez Bryant

WR Dez Bryant

At his best, Bryant is one of the toughest matchups among NFL receivers. He can overpower most cornerbacks and is still dangerous in the open field. Dez Bryant is still a franchise receiver when his health and the circumstances on offense allow him to be.

Health has been an issue for the last two seasons. Dez missed seven games in 2015 and three more last season. Even when he's on the field, Bryant can sometimes look labored by his nagging injuries and it impedes performance. Even if you project his per-game stats from 2016 over a full season, they would have been significantly lower numbers in yards and touchdowns than his best seasons.

Dez Bryant turns 29 this November, which means he turns 30 midway through the 2018 season. These health issues and whatever declining physical skills he has aren't going to be improved with age. If 2017 is another down year, a three-year trend become very difficult to ignore.

That said, defining a "down year" can get tricky. This isn't the same offense that Dez had his best seasons with from 2012-2014. Even if Bryant's chemistry with Dak Prescott is assumably better in their second year together, Cole Beasley has emerged as a favorite target for Prescott and will cut into Dez's opportunities. What's more, the ground-focused attack with Ezekiel Elliott can be detrimental to Bryant's production.

Cowboys Blog - DeMarcus Ware Easily The Greatest 94 In Dallas Cowboys History

LB/DE DeMarcus Ware (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

The DeMarcus Ware comparison is a strong one. Ware was about to turn 32 when Dallas released him in 2014.  Despite missing only three games the previous season, Ware's production had plummeted to just six sacks. Dallas cleared roughly $7 million in cap space by cutting Ware and the move seemed very shrewd. Jerry Jones was even praised for thinking with his head over his heart, which has not been his reputation as General Manager.

In hindsight, some could argue that it was a mistake. Ware went on to win a Super Bowl in Denver and had 10 sacks despite a lesser role on the Broncos defense. This past offseason, some were even clamoring for Ware to return to Dallas to help one of the league's worst pass rushes.

Ultimately, I don't blame the Cowboys for the Ware decision.  The logic was sound in the moment, and even the hindsight argument is faulty. Ware's success in Denver came because he was surrounded by talented guys. If he'd stayed in Dallas, he still would've be asked to be the focal point of the defensive line. There is little reason to think that would've been effective.

Dez Bryant

WR Dez Bryant

Age and declining performance sent DeMarcus Ware, the greatest pass-rusher in Cowboys history and one of the best to ever play football, into early free agency. Clearly, it would be foolish to think that it can't happen to Dez Bryant.

Nobody is rooting for this, of course. A big year from Dez is a great thing for Dallas. That $16.5 million cap hit is perfectly fine if he's producing like a true franchise receiver. Dallas can afford to pay it while Prescott and Elliott are still discounted from their rookie deals, and especially when all of the Tony Romo dead money comes off the books in 2018.

This is the major difference between the Bryant and Ware situations, and one that works heavily in Dez's favor. The Cowboys were in desperate need for cap space when they cut DeMarcus, a move that they may not have made otherwise. The 2018 Cowboys will have a lot more breathing room and may not have to make the tough decision on Bryant.

That said, if Bryant misses another big chunk of games or clearly isn't the same athlete anymore, Dallas may need the cash to go get someone else. History has proven that Terrance Williams can't fill Bryant's shoes. If Dez isn't a franchise receiver anymore, the Cowboys will need to find one and probably can't afford to keep paying Bryant at that same level.

This topic is almost certain to be revisited after the 2017 season. Hopefully, it's to say that Bryant was too good to even consider releasing. If Dez struggles next year, though, we may resume this conversation sooner than you think.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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28 Comments
  • Wayne Young

    No. Next question.

    • Jess Haynie

      So, nothing about the team’s recent history suggests it’s a possibility?

      • Wayne Young

        Jerry is too loyal. He’ll find every reason he can short of trading or releasing Dez to justify keeping him even if he has an off year. Jerry picked Dez. Last thing he likes doing is admitting he was wrong.

  • Willie Rogers

    Whoever wrote this must have lost a brain cell or two, Dez will retire a rich cowboy.

    • Jess Haynie

      I can’t argue the brain cell loss, but ask yourself…. why have the Cowboys avoided restructuring Bryant’s contract? They’ve moved money on all these other guys to create cap room, but they’ve left Bryant’s contract more flexible. Why would they do that unless they were also considering they may have to release him one day?

      • Willie Rogers

        Lol, it may come a day they release Dak,Zeke,& some of those offensive linemen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DallasCowboyBooksBlog fgoodwin

    I hope Dez has a great year, but we can’t continue to pay him like a franchise player when he spends so much time in the training room.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jerry’s line about “availability” being the most important ability is one of the truest things he’s ever said.

  • Ethan Chazin

    Big “IF” in play here, but given their offensive configuration makes sense esp. if they could draft a big time college WR. The cap savings alone would enable them to do things but bottom line there are intangibles at play i.e. his positive impact on the other players.

    • Jess Haynie

      You just nailed another big point. Given the picks already spent on the o-line and investments on defense just made, Dallas could easily target a WR in the first-round next year.

  • https://InsideTheStar.com/ Bryson Treece

    Not enough people are willing to ask this question, so I appreciate you for doing it. Dez makes good money right now, but his numbers (yards, TDs, etc.) aren’t quite up to what we expect. His injuries are a little too often. He does add great value to this team, but I have to think the Cowboys are keeping their options open. Hence no restructure on his contract yet.

    Personally, I would like to stick around, retire a Cowboy, but I look at how deep we’re stacking talent at WR and I believe the reason we’re doing that is because it’s likely Dez will miss games due to injury. If a guy is that predictable, and being paid like he is, that’s just a tough situation. Something has to give, eventually.

    • Jess Haynie

      Thank you. Obviously, it’s not something any of us want to see happen. But if the team leaving themselves an escape route, which they clearly are by not restructuring his deal, then I think it’s appropriate to consider the possibility.

      • ThePsychodad69

        Maybe taking care of the all-pro OLinemans 2nd contract before they worry about Dez’s 3rd.

        Its silly to look through a window and guess how warm it is inside or if the toilets full of turds.

  • TreFKennedy88

    We’ll never know the answer because Dez gonna have 90+’s catches, 1200-1400 yards and 12-20 td’s

    • Jess Haynie

      I admire your optimism and hope you’re right!

      • TreFKennedy88

        Trust me Dez is gonna re claim his top 5 status, plus to me Dez is a hall of famer, gotta get at least 10K yards and 100+ td’s ( which is on pace for) among this generation of wide outs, Aj, Julio, Demaryius, all of them Dez scores at a much higher rate

  • Matthew Harrell

    I agree. Not only is this entirely possible, it is very likely unless Dez has a monster year. Now I love D-Ware but greatest pass rusher in Cowboys history? This is all in fun but I would put Randy White and Harvey Martin up there with if not ahead of him. Even George Andrie deserves consideration. A 60s beast, he had unofficially 4 straight seasons with double digit sacks, even reaching 18 in ’66. These guys played before the sack was an official stat but you can look up unofficial team info and research will show that these guys had monster numbers also also. Of course Bob Lilly, Too Tall Jones and Jethro Pugh are in the argument as well. Lilly’s numbers are harder to verify but he is alleged to have had 15 sacks in 66 along with Andrie’s 18 and reached at least 94 in his career. Pugh had 4 straight years with 13 or more sacks, reaching 15 in’68.Harvey Martin had 20 sacks and a Super Bowl co-MVP (shared with Randy White, no less) in’77 Randy White, like Martin, absolutely terrorized offenses recording multiple double digit sack seasons and amassed 111 career sacks. Martin had 113 career followed by Too Tall with 105, Andrie 97, Pugh 95 and Mr. Cowboy Bob Lilly 94. I know Ware’s stats are official and arguably better but my argument is these other legends played with each other. Lilly had Andrie and Pugh also eating up sacks while White, Martin and Jones played together. The amount of Defensive destruction done by these two generations of Doomsday left less availability for higher personal statistic acheivment while Ware playing for far less superior Ds was able to pile up more. Just fun fan banter but I put Ware near the top, just not on it. He certainly stands amoung a group of Legends.

    • Jess Haynie

      Thank you for the historical perspective. I’m only 35 so I greatly appreciate that insight. You’re right that I was leaning on the official stats, which is really we have for some of these discussions.

  • Matthew Harrell

    Also to the Dez article, I do like him and hope he has his best season yet but Jess’ logic is sound..I’ve said for awhile Dez is overrsted. Not to say bad, just overrated in the sense that he brings more bark than bite and his position is not as valuable as he or most else believe. Do the Patriots have a Dez? Before ODB did the Giants have one? Have the won a title since having ODB? If he doesn’t have a career year, cut him, his contract will become an albatross at a time when Zeke most importantly followed by Dak will get big ones. All of this after Zack Martin gets paid. Throw in thst he turns 30 next year, the Ware scenario certainly applies here. Having seen my favorite player the last 12 years suffer the same fate due to age injury and most importantly salary, its just a sad fact of football life. Next season we can draft a top WR who will be much younger and cheaper so it makes sense. The one thing that could change is Dez having a monster year.

  • ThePsychodad69

    Uhhh……didn’t Ware want to play in a 3-4, got salty when Wade was fired and had been injured for his last 3yrs in Dallas, the choice was Wares to stay for less money.

    Pretty sure it was for everybodies benefit @ the time especially after wasting franchise tags on Spencer and paying Rat.

    Dez’s numbers would have to be Eagle like to even consider dumping him, besides can you pull a #1 WR out of your hat to replace him, maybe a recycled #1 will fall from the sky or draft a stud(easier said than done) with the 32nd pick.

    • Jess Haynie

      You’re right that some circumstances were different with Ware. Ultimately, though, the scenario of a guy underperforming his contract and getting released has played out time and again in the NFL. Everyone has some unique aspects to their situation, but those key points have a fairly consistent outcome.

  • Russ_Te

    I don’t look for a skills or speed dropoff yet for Dez. It’s just a question of how brittle in 2017.

    If he misses 10 games and Butler comes on like Miles Austin did, much easier equation in the offseason.

    But the dominant run game is Dez’s friend of course. More loaded boxes = more single coverage. He’ll have a big year if healthy.

    I do think Linehan waits too long some games to get him involved. The dynasty 49’ers never had this run attack, but they always made sure Jerry Rice touched the ball early & they moved him all over the LOS. There’s no reason not to copy that for Dez.

    • Jess Haynie

      Good points as always, Russ. I think you’re right about the way Dez is used sometimes hurting him. He seems to be a momentum player, sort of like a RB who needs enough touches to be effective.

  • Randy Martin

    Ok so at first I read the headline and thought oh no! And then I saw it was Jess Haynie who is certainly one of the more reasonable writers of all things Cowboy. So I read it with an open mind. He backed up his premise with facts and it was a reasonable assertion. On the surface, it sounds illogical but there could be merit. Dez Bryant’s best years were 2011-2014. Those first two years we were still trying to find a rushing game with Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray. Murray came on in 2013 and 2014 and Dez still prospered with excellent seasons in those 2 years. Obviously we have had the injury plagued seasons the last two years and this season He has declared himself ready to have a great season. Enter Zeke, Beas, Switz, and Witten. All indications are that Zeke will be used more on the ground this year AND will be catching more passes. I also see Beas and Switz with a high number of catches. There are only so many offensive plays in a game so how the ball is spread around will be based on matchups and game day decisions. All that being said, it is reasonable to project a healthy Dez with 80-85 catches, 1200 yards, and 12 TD’s. But if Dez continues to collect injuries and has another year like the last two it is certainly not unreasonable to assume Dallas could begin looking for a new #1 WR and asking Dez to take a large pay cut or designating him a June 1 cut in 2018. So, perhaps everyone should remove their blue and silver colored glasses and put on your clear view glasses and look at the way NFL teams are run today.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com/ Bryson Treece

      Exactly!

    • Jess Haynie

      Randy, I really appreciate the benefit of the doubt you gave. I know there’s a lot of junk out there, so the fact you saw my name and trusted me means a lot!

  • http://dvqp.ru BeirutWedding

    Dang, dude, buzz kill much? The season hasn’t even started yet!

    Excellent piece and dead on across the board. The one thing I’ll say about last year was that his numbers might have been down but he was a big play guy last year when we needed him to be. Philly, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit. More importantly, he stepped up in the playoff loss. If he stays healthy, Dez creates the balance with Zeke. He doesn’t stretch the field but he knows how to reach that damn end zone.

    By the way, as great as Ware was and he was great, I don’t know that he was better than Harvey Martin. Harvey had 23 sacks the year they beat Denver in the Super Bowl. He was a machine and honestly, should be in the Hall of Fame (not to mention the damn RING OF HONOR.)

  • John Williams

    Very well put together article and argument Jess. Good job asking the hard hitting questions.

    I wonder if a trade would be a possibility next offseason. I would have a hard time letting him go if they didn’t have a way to replace him with a legitimate WR1. Someone who takes the DB focus all over the field. While Cole is really good as a slot receiver, he doesn’t stretch the field to the boundary like Dez does. Not in the deep threat burner way, but in the, we’ve got to account for where Dez goes way.

    Sometimes teams have to make tough decisions.

    I also wonder if they will ask Dez to take a pay cut if he struggles to stay healthy this year.

Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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Player News

Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.

From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.

Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.

They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.

Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

https://t.co/za0u3lWgaY

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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