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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.

Game Notes

Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.

Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.

Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.

Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.

David Moore on Twitter

Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.

Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.

The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.

Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.

Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.

Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.

Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.

He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.

If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.

Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.

Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.

That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Pass Rush Better than They're Given Credit For
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.

But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.

According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.

Brian Burke on Twitter

Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.

What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.

For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.

As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.

Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.

Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).

Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.



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Player News

Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018

A groin injury sustained last week against Jacksonville won't send Tavon Austin to injured reserve, at least for now. The Dallas Cowboys receiver has elected to forego surgery at this time, giving him a chance to return to action in 2018.

There was concern that Austin could land on IR initially following the Jaguars game, but he sought a second opinion this week. It appears that this new information was enough for Tavon and the Cowboys to decide that surgery can wait.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Sounds like WR Tavon Austin will not have surgery at this time after getting a second opinion on his groin injury. He could miss a few weeks, however. #cowboyswire

Austin should miss this Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins. He has been the team's punt returner this season and a useful tool on offense, playing mostly receiver but also lining up the backfield at times.

Despite his limited opportunities, Tavon is tied with Cole Beasley for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns in 2018.

How long Austin will remain out is unknown at this time. After the Washington game, Dallas will have their bye week and then host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.

Both of these are games that the Cowboys, feeling good after a blowout victory over Jacksonville, should be able to win without Austin. But they would certainly like him back for the Week 10 road game with the Philadelphia Eagles.

In Tavon's absence, Cole Beasley will likely field punts. We may see more of Deonte Thompson in the speed routes that Austin ran on offense, though Dallas could also finally see what recently returned Brice Butler has to offer.

With an expiring contract this year, Tavon will likely want to get back soon and trying to improve his stock for the 2019 offseason. Hopefully, he can still have a positive impact on his value and the Cowboys season in the weeks ahead.



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