DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys and receiver Dez Bryant were headed for an inevitable collision course today. The question was whether the All-Pro wideout, who turns 30 years old on Nov. 4, would continue to be a part of them or apart from them. After a tumultuous offseason of back and forth talk on Dez's future in Dallas, the two sides met at The Star today for an ominous discussion. In the end, Dallas decided to release their star receiver.
Some had suggested, such as the esteemed Pat Kirwan from Sirius XM NFL Radio, that the fact the Cowboys front office met with Bryant this late in the free agency period -- two weeks away from the draft, mind you -- indicated that Dallas would talk things through as they always have and retain their first-round pick from 2010, not release him.
In a way, that would have made sense. After all, the last time the Cowboys made a hard decision with a star player on the roster (sans Tony Romo's retirement last off-season) was in the 2014 off-season with edge rusher DeMarcus Ware. Dallas had the dreaded meeting with him early in the free agency period and he was released March 11.
Do you see the disparity in the timing of the meeting this go-around? The signs seemed to point to the Cowboys wanting to keep Bryant.
Nevertheless, even as the timing seems strange, the Cowboys decided to part ways with Bryant. And, frankly, even though Bryant has played for the Cowboys in one form or another going back to his college days at Oklahoma State, it was time for him ride out of Dallas.
Bryant has given everything he has to give to the Cowboys and only has two division titles to show for it, not even a conference championship game appearance among those playoff berths. He has played through a broken finger, willed his broken right foot to heal so he could return in 2015 and not sit out as Julio Jones advised, and has had a nagging left knee injury that has popped up every season since 2016.
In the meantime, the front office had played it conservatively and hoped their franchise quarterback could mask the inherit problems ranging from a lack of running game to a deficient pass rush. Even as the former was addressed with the Ezekiel Elliott pick in 2016 and Romo ushered out the door, pass rush still remains a question mark for Dallas.
On top of that, in an attempt to get cheaper at quarterback, Dallas has entrusted the keys to the franchise to a third-year field general who no doubt still has some growing up to do on the field.
Bryant tried to help Dallas appear in a conference title game in 2014, but as we know, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino and referee Gene Steratore had other plans. So even when he did the right thing for the Cowboys, there was never a guarantee that things would go as dreamed.
God bless tight Jason Witten for putting up with this Sisyphean process, but no one should think any less of Bryant after he's found an avenue towards departure. Ware went on to Denver and won a Super Bowl two seasons later, and Cowboys fans still think he belongs in the Ring of Honor.
Perhaps Bryant's admiration won't reach that level among fans, but they will still have a soft place for him in their hearts. So long as Bryant does not go to a division rival or a historic rival, fans will think fondly of him.
Speaking of fans, that is exactly what Bryant is. I once read on a Cowboys forum a fan write that he wished the Dallas Cowboys loved the Dallas Cowboys as much as the fans do. Well, Bryant is exactly that type of player the forum poster would appreciate.
Since his childhood days in Lufkin, Texas, Bryant has been a fan of America's Team. It was part of the luster and most appealing aspect of playing for the Cowboys. He has won a playoff game in AT&T Stadium. He bridged the gap between their two world headquarters in Valley Ranch and now The Star in Frisco. He has had his fun. He has partaken in some very special moments in franchise history.
Bryant should go to whatever team gives him the best chance to get back to having fun playing football. The reality is he has not been a dynamic receiver since the 2014 campaign. Not once has he eclipsed 80 catches, 1,000 yards, or 10 touchdowns, numbers that he routinely and effortlessly surpassed from 2012-14.
A fun place to go would be San Francisco, again, if he looks at things strictly from a football point of view and doesn't let Cowboys fan biases get in the way. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made the 49ers look impressive in the final five games of the 2017 season, winning all five of them. The 49ers do have a receiver need, and Bryant would be paired with Pierre Garcon and Trent Taylor.
Also cornerback Richard Sherman is there in the Bay Area, and no doubt the two have a respect for one another that should blossom into good camaraderie. Another fun place for Bryant to play would be Carolina with Cam Newton, as the Panthers need some help bolstering their receiving corps.
In terms of "win now," since Father Time is catching up to Bryant like Donte Whitner did Jesse Holley and he doesn't have too many more years to win a Super Bowl, other landing spots could include Green Bay, Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, and, heck, even Jacksonville, which would be an ironic landing spot since former Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns, now a Cowboy, came to Dallas to play with Bryant.
No one really knows what was said but Bryant needed to go into the meeting today and not talk about the money or his contract. He needed to shift the focus of the meeting onto how the organization is going to build a contender and appear in a conference championship game in 2018, not in 2020, not in 2027. Now. Because even if the Cowboys had been able to talk Bryant down into a lower dollar number instead of off the team, that is a question that they are tasked to answer regardless. Now they'll have to answer it without their top receiver.
Perhaps Bryant felt that the franchise isn't doing enough to meet that expectation of winning now, and as such, there's nothing for Dez in Dallas. And the folks in the room shouldn't hate him at all. As certain as four-year-olds flood upstairs bathrooms, the Joneses will invite Bryant out to training camp in Oxnard six years from now. And Bryant will say how much he's always been a Cowboy at heart.
Today, Bryant let the past die.
Do you think it was time for the Cowboys and Dez Bryant to part ways? Share your Dez takes with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.