When the Dallas Cowboys placed the franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant earlier this year, it allotted the team more time to come to terms on a long-term deal. To be precise, the Cowboys have until 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 15 to reach a deal with Bryant, otherwise he’ll play next season at the tag value of $12.8 million and they won’t be allowed to negotiate a new deal until after the season has ended.
Right now, neither Dallas nor Bryant appear ready to blink, and the 26-year-old’s frustrations have the potential to distract the team for the rest of 2015.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones provided an update on the negotiations during an interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio Tuesday, and his words don’t bode well for Bryant or Dallas fans.
“I’m not a good speculator, but I will say this is the tough side of our game – the side that the fans don’t probably love to talk about,” Jones said. “But there is a business side of it, and we’re doing what we can do, our goal ultimately being to sign Dez to a long-term contract – and I know Dez would like to have one. But this is an environment right now with a receiver market that’s not exactly easy to get your hands around.”
Jones didn’t mention any other players by name, but his comments boil down to the uncertainty in the wide receiver market with other elite wide outs like Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Atlanta’s Julio Jones, and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green all potentially seeking $100 million deals. It’s a benchmark set by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald that teams like the Cowboys evidently loathe to live by.
“I don’t think anyone quite knows what that market is, and that makes it difficult,” Jones went on to say. “I think once we figure out what that is, then there’s a way for us to get something done with Dez. But until that happens, it’s what teams think versus what players and their representatives think. There’s a wide gap right now. . . .
“At the end of the day it’s a business, and when the time comes and there’s something that we can do that makes sense for both sides, I know that’ll happen – because they’re motivated to do it, we’re motivated to do it. But right now there’s just too big a divide.”
That divide has Bryant contemplating extreme measures to get the deal he desires. After snatching 88 receptions for 1,320 yards, his third straight 1,000-yard season, for a league-best 16 touchdowns, Bryant feels he’s owed a long-term deal.
But if he doesn’t get it, Bryant is considering sitting out the Cowboys season opener, according to a report from ESPN last week. Bryant’s agent Tom Condon wouldn’t speculate on the report or the possibility of his client holding out, but stated he hopes to ink a long-term deal before July 15. Bryant did, however, confirm the report Friday.
Over the last few months, the Cowboys have said they want to keep Bryant but several reports on the team’s thinking indicated they are wary of his previous issues off the field and thus don’t want to invest gobs of guaranteed money. When Bryant first entered the league he had several run-ins with the law, and Dallas instituted the “Dez” rules, which essentially required he be monitored by a security detail, adhere to a curfew, and couldn’t go to bars or clubs.
Bryant’s since shied away from incidents off the field, and he’s become one of the NFL’s best playmakers and quarterback Tony Romo’s best weapon. Bryant hasn’t missed a game in the last three seasons, and defenses build their game plans around stopping his abilities down field and in the slot.
The Cowboys also have little big-play options behind Bryant. There’s third-year receiver Terrance Williams, who’s received praise for his work in the offseason, as well as Cole Beasley, but neither’s shown the talent to be as productive as Bryant. Furthermore, Dallas already let top rusher DeMarco Murray walk to the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles over a contract dispute, leaving the offense with several questions before training camp opens in the summer.
Other times in Cowboys history, they’ve given in to a player’s demands. Famously, Hall-of-Fame running back Emmitt Smith held out in the 1993 season and didn’t play in the first two games. Dallas lost both, Smith got his deal, and the team went on to win another Super Bowl.
Dallas currently has $11.8 million in salary cap space, but that number will shrink to a little over $8 million with Romo, left tackle Tyron Smith, and cornerback Brandon Carr’s contracts eating up $38.6 million, or nearly 30 percent, of space next season.
The next few weeks will likely decided whether or not Bryant and Dallas can reach a co-beneficial solution, and not wreak havoc on a team that nearly reached the NFC Championship.