On Friday, in one of the poorer kept secrets of the NFL offseason, the Dallas Cowboys finally acted on their desire to end the Dez Bryant Era, releasing the mercurial wide receiver after eight seasons in Dallas. On pretty much every level, the move made perfect sense.
On paper, Bryant, 29, had devolved into a shell of what he had been when he earned a five year, $70 million extension back in 2015. From 2012 through 2014, Bryant averaged 91 catches, 1,311 yards, and 14 touchdown receptions per season, From 2015 through 2017, those numbers plummeted to 50 catches, 678 yards, and 6 touchdown receptions per season. No doubt, the drop-off has been precipitous and noticeable.
Those 2015-2017 numbers just don'tjustify the $12.5 million salary nor the $16.5 million cap hit that Bryant was going to carry in 2018. The Cowboys will realize a cap savings of $8.5 million from releasing Bryant, and that will come immediately. The Cowboys are not waiting to make Bryant a June 1 cut, which would allow them to spread the dead money hit over a couple of seasons. They're ripping off the Band-Aid swiftly and decisively.
And that "clean break" brings us to the other side of releasing Dez Bryant. Bryant is probably a swell guy to have around when he is putting up 1,400 yards and scoring double digit touchdowns, but it's no secret that behind the scenes, Dez Bryant can be a bit much. The Cowboys have reportedly gone out of their way to create a functional environment for a player who grew up in the complete opposite of anything functional. Bryant's outbursts and the investments the team has made in nurturing Bryant are all worth it when he is shattering the opposition's defensive strategy. When he is basically a poor man's Allen Hurns (who, coincidentally, will be replacing Bryant for the Cowboys), though, not so much. A clean start was needed.
For their part, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were very complimentary of Bryant on his way out....
Bryant, though, seemed to be hip to SOMETHING in that message, as he tweeted this in response to the Cowboys' statement:
Key words in this statement.. Several input.. something I already knew https://t.co/2P0mAIOSVs— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) April 13, 2018
The "several" drawing skepticism from Bryant, according to "Skin" Wade, co-host of the Ben and Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, includes Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Wade shared on my radio show on SportsRadio 610 on Friday that Linehan had just three routes in which he was comfortable using Bryant, an odd dynamic considering Bryant's raw skills.
So now Bryant is available for 31 other NFL teams, and signing him is certainly more complicated for some teams than others. Reportedly, on his way out the door, Bryant was telling Cowboy employees that he would see them twice next season, implying that he would be signing within the division — Giants, Eagles, or Redskins. The Eagles would seem to be capped out dollar-wise, and the Giants and Redskins feel like potentially toxic situations for Bryant, considering how little winning they might be doing.
The Houston Texans certainly have room on the wide receiver depth chart for Bryant, but I'm not so sure that the drama that comes with Dez Bryant is something Bill O'Brien and Brian Gaine want to inject into their locker room. However, that didn't stop a couple of the alpha dogs on the team from beginning the social media recruiting efforts.
Tyrann Mathieu dished out a tweet to Bryant...
.... that looked eerily similar to the tweet that Watt sent to Mathieu the day he was cut back in March....
Then there was DeAndre Hopkins, who apparently would love to have Bryant benefit from all of the attention Hopkins draws from opposing defenses....
The feeling was apparently mutual...
Dez Bryant just followed Will Fuller, JJ Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, and DeShaun Watson on Instagram.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) April 15, 2018
While it's nice that some of the Texans would welcome Bryant with open arms, and that he would hug back, my guess is that Bryant will get a hard pass from O'Brien and Gaine. So if I were a betting man, which I am and have been since like the age of 12, I would put my money on any of these four teams:
4. Carolina Panthers
For the record, I think Bryant is better off being a No. 2 receiver on a good team, rather than trying to rekindle 2014 all over again. However, the Panthers' leading receiver last season was Devin Funchess with 840 yards, so I could see the Panthers, Cam Newton, and Bryant himself talking him into thinking he can be a No. 1 receiver again.
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3. Jacksonville Jaguars
They've been somehow carving out cap space to sign a bunch of other guys unexpectedly this offseason, so why not Bryant? Also, it would be fascinating to see what exactly a Bryant outburst on Blake Bortles might look like. Bryant might murder Bortles with his bare hands by Week 5.
2. New Orleans Saints
It's in the South, Drew Brees would be his quarterback, there are plenty of other threats on that offense to draw attention, they're a team that will likely win some games — this is an ideal fit.
1. New England Patriots
He's probably more Patriot Chad Ocho Cinco than Patriot Randy Moss at this point, but this feels like a fit for some reason. The way this Patriots offseason has gone, perhaps Bryant will be the stick of dynamite that finally blows the Pats' dynasty sky high. This is, by far, the most interesting scenario for Bryant.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.