By Nick Shook
Read full post on NFL.com
A year after finishing 13-3 and reaching the divisional round of the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys are spending the postseason at home.
To owner Jerry Jones, that isn’t acceptable — and some of it has to do with the play of wide receiver Dez Bryant.
“Well, I think Dez is right. We need more from Dez. We need bigger plays,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “That’s obvious to everybody is we didn’t get big plays. I don’t know that you ever get enough of them, but we certainly didn’t get the amount that we have to have to change our fate here. And, so, I agree with him. We need to have bigger plays.
“There’s a lot into that, but we’ve got to get more from — he’s [a] top player on our team. He certainly expects to make big plays, the expectation for Dak[Prescott] to get him the ball is there. We’ve gotten used to it. Yeah, we need more from that area.”
Bryant caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. Those are decent numbers for your average receiver, but an offense that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six weeks and never quite got the ground game going had an added reliance on Bryant. He didn’t deliver, catching just 69 of his 132 targets for a 52.3 catch percentage. His 838 yards receiving also finished outside of the league’s top 25 for the third straight year, but for the first time in 15 or more games played in a season since 2011.
The aspect of Bryant’s underwhelming 2017 that has received the most scrutiny is his number of drops (6), which tied for fifth-most in the league and drew the ire of Cowboys fans on multiple occasions. None was bigger than the short pass that glanced off Bryant’s hands — a fastball lacking the necessary touch from Prescott — and was intercepted by a Seattle defender in a game that ruined Dallas’ postseason chances.
The biggest factor in all of this is Bryant’s contract. It’s a five-year, $70 million deal signed in 2015, fresh off a season that saw Bryant catch 88 passes for 1,320 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns. It’s since taken him three seasons to match that scoring output, all while his salary-cap number has risen steadily with each year.
That number drops in 2018, from $17 million to $16.5 million, but his dead cap number — a salary-cap penalty incurred by releasing Bryant before the expiration of his contract — remains an exorbitant $8 million before June 1, according to OverTheCap.com. After that date, it drops to $4 million, creating a cap savings of $12.5 million.
Armed with this information, Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones didn’t avoid discussing the decision that looms when appearing on 105.3 The Fan.
Considering Bryant’s production in the last three seasons — he hasn’t broken five catches per game since 2014 — he’s overpaid at this point. In 2017, Bryant made $246,376.81 per catch. For a team trying to juggle cap space to improve in other areas, that rate is simply too high.
What this might come down to is Bryant’s desire to remain a Cowboy versus the lure of more money elsewhere. This is a league in which a franchise gave Kenny Britt $8.125 million per season; another team flush with cap space will be willing to pay Bryant $10 million per year. It will be interesting to see if Bryant and the Cowboys can work out a restructuring, an outright pay cut or resort to a mutual parting of ways.