Jerry Jones doesn’t have any leverage.
He and Dez Bryant will sit down to discuss the receiver’s future with the Dallas Cowboys on Friday. The presumption was that Jones would ask Bryant to take a pay cut. If Bryant refuses, he’ll get cut.
But with free agency essentially done, why would the Cowboys cut Bryant? They don’t have anything better to do with the money. His cap hit is $16.5 million, but the Cowboys would only recoup $8.5 million in cap space. Unless Dallas wants to avoid the optics of potentially overpaying Bryant for another season, they don’t have a reason to cut him. Maybe he’s got a pattern of negative behavior, but that’s nothing new for Bryant.
Look at how the Green Bay Packers handled Jordy Nelson’s contract. They thought they were paying him too much. The two parties couldn’t agree on a pay cut, so the Packers and Nelson parted ways as free agency began. That freed up money for Green Bay to sign tight end Jimmy Graham on the same day of Nelson’s release.
Now, the receiver and tight end market is dry. The Cowboys’ current receiver depth chart includes Bryant, Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson and Ryan Switzer, among others. The best free agents available include Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker, Michael Floyd and Markus Wheaton.
In the last three years, Bryant hasn’t gone for 1,300 yards (like he did from 2012 to 2014). But in the last two seasons, he had 1,634 total yards and 14 total touchdowns in 29 games. That’s better than what Sammy Watkins and Paul Richardson did in that same span. And after those two players cashed in, it’s easy to imagine Bryant finding a nice paycheck if the Cowboys did release him. Team’s still have money (See: the Colts, Niners, Titans and Texans).
Bryant is still a solid receiver, even if he’s no longer in the argument as one of the league’s best. The Cowboys are better with him on the roster, and they’ve given him complementary pieces for success with free agent acquisition Allen Hurns and a healthy and not-suspended Ezekiel Elliot.
If the Cowboys absolutely want Bryant out of town, because he’s a locker room cancer or doesn’t mesh with the rest of the offense, they could seek out a trade. On “Good Morning Football” Thursday, Reggie Bush explained he and the New Orleans Saints ran into a contract dispute, which went unsettled. The Saints then traded him to the Miami Dolphins, where he found a happier contractual middle ground. That’s the route the Cowboys could take in an attempt to get some return value with Bryant. But of course, that return value wouldn’t be very generous. It might be a middle round pick. Jones wouldn’t have much leverage on the trade market either.
The Cowboys seemed to wait too long to settle this issue, so their best option is to spend the money on Bryant with hopes that they’ve surrounded him with talent in a way that he can live up to his paycheck.
Then in 2019, whether he does or doesn’t, the Cowboys can probably restructure his deal or cut him (early in the free agency process), as his contract would free up $12.5 million in space next offseason.