The Cowboys have released receiver Dez Bryant, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Todd Archer reported Friday. Dallas will save roughly $8.5 million in cap space this season while eating $8 million in dead cap.
Dallas drafted Bryant 24th overall in 2010. He quickly established himself as one of the most dominant players in football and the premier non–Calvin Johnson red zone threat in the first few years of his career, gaining 5,424 yards and scoring 56 touchdowns in his first five seasons (roughly 1,085 yards and 11 touchdowns per season). That elite production earned him a five-year contract with $45 million guaranteed that was worth as much as $70 million, and even three years later he had a top-five cap hit among wide receivers. But since signing that deal in 2015, Bryant has been a shadow of himself, gaining just 2,035 yards and 17 touchdowns in the three seasons after being sapped by foot and ankle injuries. Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart charted 89 receivers’ value in relation to their cap hit in 2017, and Bryant was 88th.
It didn’t make sense for the Cowboys to hang onto Bryant, especially with deals looming for guard Zack Martin and the franchise-tagged Demarcus Lawrence. The question of whether Bryant would take a paycut to reduce his $16.5 million cap hit has been lingering since last offseason; when asked reporters asked him about it in December, he responded, “Hell nah. I believe in me.” Jerry Jones indicated that he wanted to keep Bryant on the team at the NFL combine, but Dallas’s director of player personnel (and Jerry’s son), Stephen Jones, was less committal in his answers in February. When Bryant and the Cowboys finally met Friday, Bryant wasn’t offered the option of taking a paycut to stay, according to Archer.
Wherever Bryant goes next, his performance will depend on whether he can evolve as a receiver as he nears age 30. As Steve Smith Sr. pointed out in November, Bryant relied on his immense physical gifts, but now he struggles with every route except push-off hitches, jump-ball gos, and slants. He’s been training with “route-running guru” David Robinson (not the Admiral) this offseason, and Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley said that Bryant has been working on his route-running more than ever before.
It’s tough to be a 29-year-old receiver trying to learn the route tree. It’s also tough for the Cowboys to take a $16.5 million cap hit to watch a guy do that. As the player and team go their separate ways, both may find greener pastures.