The NFL has bad labor politics. Non-guaranteed contracts in a sport where people routinely get not just terrible injuries, not just career-threatening injuries, but life-threatening injuries is not great. Obviously, teams would spend differently if they knew they had to pay all that money – but it’s not great for the people who put on the pads.
Dez Bryant is not exactly a casualty of such a labor issue, and has a lot of guaranteed money. Dez signed a five-year, $70 million dollar contract in 2015, which is to say, three years ago. At the time, Dez more or less deserved that, having been a star and a first-team All-pro in 2014, and had most recent broken 1,200 yards and 12 TDs every year for three years.
The Cowboys couldn’t have known that that would be the last year he really deserved it. Dez was hit by various injuries in 2015 and wasn’t his old self, dropping from 1,320 to 401 yards receiving and from 16 TDs to 3.
Over the next season, and this most recent season, he rebounded somewhat, but never touched his numbers from 2012-2014. The latest was the worst: he played 16 games but only gained 834 yards and only grabbed 6 TDs. This wasn’t entirely his fault. Certainly, he seems to have lost a step or two, but Dak Prescott is also not nearly Tony Romo when it comes to throwing the ball deep. Still, you can see the Cowboys’ point of view.
And yet, it just doesn’t sit well with me. The thing is, of course, teams compete for players. They do that by offering them the most salary, but they also do that by offering them the most years – everyone wants a little security. With guaranteed contracts, that means that part of the compensation package is paying too much for a guy who is no longer in his prime at the back end of the contract. Although the salary cap makes it complicated, it’s not really very different from enticing an employee with the promise of a good pension or retirement plan.
In other words, in order to get a great player in x and y good years, you’re willing to have him in z bad year, too. With non-guaranteed contracts, the latter half of this can just be a bluff. You can “pay” a lot for Dez, for a long time, to convince him to stick around, and then you can just actually not pay it.
And it won’t hurt your reputation, usually, as a front office, because fans hate the players they consider to be “overpaid,” too. In Dez’s case, he actually did get $32 million of his $70 million guaranteed, and an additional $13 million guaranteed, after successfully playing in 2016, for a total of $45 million. Still, by cutting him, the Cowboys saved themselves $8,500,000 this year and more the next.
I can’t say much more than that, because it’s not like I think it was prudent for the Cowboys on a business level to have a guy making that kind of money who hasn’t produced that much in a little while, but it’s also not like I like the idea of contracts that can be broken in the middle when the team feels like it, or, especially, that I like the idea of Dez moving on from the Cowboys. It’s not my money, but I loved having Dez on the team, and since football is so dangerous, I think he deserved what he was given.
Here we are, however. Dez’s major fault, throughout his entire career as a WR in Dallas, was that he wasn’t just a little bit better. It’s funny who that’s a problem for, and who it isn’t. Terrance Williams has also not been better than he is, but it’s never been as big of an issue.
It’s that Dez was almost one of the great WRs in the game and was not quite one of the best WRs in the game that seemed to get people’s goat – if he were a little worse, he might also have been happier.
For myself, what I’ll remember is that Dez was a thrilling guy to watch, especially when it was Tony throwing him the ball. He never had special hands, really, but he would come down with very special catches.
He never had the most speed, but he fought so hard for every additional yard. He was an incredible athlete, and you never felt like he wasn’t trying to use it to help the Cowboys win as much as he possibly could. I’m sure he made the coaches a little uncomfortable from time to time, but I’m also sure the other players loved playing with a guy like that.
So, now that it’s over, I’ll say only that I really appreciated what Dez Bryant was to the Dallas Cowboys, and I’m sorry to see him go. Not being the GM or owner, I don’t have to care about what he’s owed or deserves, I just know I liked watching him on Sundays. I’ll like watching the team less without him, and I’ll miss him. Happy trails, Dez, I hope you land somewhere great.
Will you miss Dez Bryant or are you glad the Cowboys got out while they getting was still good? Share your thoughts with Andy on Twitter @andytobo.