You can call off the search party — the Dallas Cowboys found Dez Bryant on Sunday against Jacksonville. Repeatedly.
After Bryant experienced his worst games of the season back-to-back, the fifth-year receiver had a monster game against the hapless Jaguars, as Bryant caught six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. It was Bryant’s best game of the season, no doubt in large part to the return of Tony Romo at quarterback. But there were other factors.
Bryant is one of the Top 5 receivers in the game. I’m not sure there is a single receiver in the league that can match his physicality.
The Cowboys’ previous two opponents, Washington and Arizona, did two things well. First, they blitzed Romo and Brandon Weeden repeatedly, forcing them into quick decisions that kept Bryant out of the passing game for long stretches.
Second, those teams featured physical corners that matched Bryant’s brute strength for most of the game. The Jaguars, inexplicably, chose not to blitz Romo.
They also didn’t have the physical corners needed to try and neutralize Bryant. But few teams do. Plus, if you needed a reminder that Bryant possesses top-end downfield speed, that 68-yard touchdown pass to end the second quarter should have done the trick.
The fact is that Bryant is one of the Top 5 receivers in the game. I’m not sure there is a single receiver in the league that can match his physicality. His route running is light years ahead of his rookie season. If he’s not the king of the back-shoulder fade route, then he most assuredly is the crowned prince. His performance on Sunday was validation of where his career resides.
So, in the midst of the final year of his rookie contract he’s going to get paid, right? Well, yes, but the route should be interesting.
Last week Bryant changed agents, firing Eugene Parker and signing with Roc Nation Sports, owned by rapper Jay-Z. The belief is that Tom Condon, agent to some of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, will negotiate Bryant’s new deal. With the bye week upcoming for Dallas, and Bryant admitting publicly that he’s willing to talk about an extension during the season, it would seem a perfect time to work something out, right?
Well, that’s the thing. Maybe it’s not. Before Sunday’s game the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport filed a report saying that Cowboys officials are “hesitant” to give Bryant a deal loaded with guaranteed money, which is what Bryant wants. The reason is that police have been called out to Bryant’s DeSoto home a half-dozen times to answer calls related to everything from harassment to robbery.
Now, charges were not filed in any of those incidents and, curiously, Rapoport’s report did not indicate a time frame for the incidents. But according to the report, the Cowboys are concerned it could be signs of a trend from a player who, by most accounts, has matured a great deal since the domestic assault incident involving his mother in 2012.
The report also cited an offseason offer from the Cowboys — 10 years, $114 million. The value of the deal per season would have been $14 million, which is right around what receivers like Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald make per year. But Bryant didn’t sign. The report cites the guaranteed money. Only $20 million was guaranteed. By comparison, Johnson received $60 million guaranteed and Fitzgerald received $50 million.
Guaranteed money is key in big-money NFL contracts as the whole monetary value of the deal is not guaranteed.
So where does that leave an extension? Well, Bryant isn’t going anywhere. Even if an extension can’t be reached by March, the Cowboys could put the franchise tag on Bryant. Frankly he’s too special to let walk or to let hit the open market.
Condon is an agent who can negotiate with the best of them and thanks to his experience negotiating deals for Peyton and Eli Manning, among others, he knows how to make the right concessions to get Bryant closer to the guaranteed money he wants.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has no problem paying players big money. He just wants to mitigate the risk. Sunday’s win was a reminder of just how dominant Bryant can be. The events of the past two weeks are a reminder of just how far these contract talks still have to go.