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

Jess Haynie



Cowboys Headlines - Re-Dez-ulous: Bryant Ranks 51st In NFL Top 100

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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Bryson Treece


    • 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!

  • 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.

Player News

Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson

Jess Haynie



Deonte Thompson

The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.

Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.

Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.

Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.

For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class

Kevin Brady



Byron Jones

Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.

By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.

While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.

Byron Jones

The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.

Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.

Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.

Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.

Chaz Green

Okay, hear me out.

The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.

Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.

Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.

Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.

La'el Collins

It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.

Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.

Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.

Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.

If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.

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Player News

Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

Sean Martin



Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.

The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.

Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.

A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.

Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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