Since Dez Bryant was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 24th pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, he’s had more catches, receiving yards and touchdowns than any player in franchise history over their first five years.
He’s been one of the NFL’s best and most dynamic wide receivers over that span, amassing 381 receptions for 5,424 yards and 56 touchdowns. No player in the league has scored that many touchdowns over the past five years.
And the time has come for him to be compensated for that production.
The Cowboys have until tomorrow at 3:00pm to sign him to a long-term deal. If Bryant and the team cannot reach a contract agreement, he will be forced to play next year under the league’s franchise tag, which will pay him roughly $12.8 million.
The franchise tag stipulates that a player who is designated with it must be offered a one-year contract for an amount that is no less than the average of the top five salaries at his position, or 120% of his current salary, whichever amount is greater.
Being hit with the tag means receiving a lucrative one-year salary for a player who is universally recognized as among the best at his position, but it does not provide what a player values most – long-term security.
Bryant has been in the headlines over the last few days, threatening not to report to training camp and to sit out games until a long-term deal is done.
Many football fans have responded with the predictable narrative of Bryant being the spoiled athlete, one with enough unmitigated gall to threaten his franchise with not playing unless his demands are met.
Bryant, an All-Pro, led the league last year with 16 touchdown catches. Now that the NFL’s overall rushing champion, DeMarco Murray, is no longer a Cowboy and will be suiting up for the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas cannot afford to try to call Bryant's bluff.
As glittery and golden as that $12.8 million franchise tag figure looks to the uninitiated, Dez’s worth is actually much higher.
Removing him from the Cowboys’ receiving corps and fielding an offense without him whose top pass-catching threats would be Cole Beasely and Dwayne Harris would be like advertising an Earth, Wind and Fire concert, only to pay your hard-earned money and excitedly arriving to find Randy Watson and his band, Sexual Chocolate, accompanied by the Baha Men and Snow crooning Love’s Holiday, Devotion, Reasons and Keep Your Head to the Sky.
Bryant could skip all of training camp and the preseason, and still show up for week 1 to play against the New York Giants on September 13th while still receiving his full franchise tag money.
But if the Cowboys refuse to budge on a long-term deal, he could also sign the tender offer, sit out for ten weeks during the regular season and still collect $5.25 million, which would still be a huge upgrade over what his yearly salaries have been, and more than twice what he’s earned per year thus far.
Instead of worrying about setting the price-point in the current elite receivers market - an accusation that seems to gain more traction now that stories about the Cowboys possibly colluding with the Denver Broncos to maintain a line in their negotiations with both Bryant and Demaryius Thomas are running rampant, which could result in a suit filed shortly by the NFL Players Association - they need to come correct and pay the man his full market value.
His performance last year alone was worth more than his entire five-year rookie deal. The value that he has provided, when you consider his overall impact on the team and overall NFL economy, pales in comparison to what he’s received in compensation thus far.
As fans, we tune in to see the Dez Bryant’s, Demaryius Thomas’, the Calvin Johnson’s, The Julio Jones’ and the Odell Beckham’s. The NFL has evolved into an aerial show, where the days of the featured running backs and middle linebackers assigned to stop them are as much a thing of the past as Dr. Dre’s World Class Wreckin’ Cru outfits.
The heightened enforcement of penalties against defenses – such as the no-contact rule on receivers beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage, the softening of the middle of the field as it relates to contact during crossing patterns and referees protecting defenseless receivers have led to an NFL aerial explosion.
Fullbacks and blocking tight ends are about as rare these days as a new Junior Mafia album.
The proliferation of the spread offense and sophisticated scheme/personnel combinations are the rage. And into that vacuum has fallen today’s big, fast, athletic, wondrous prototype of the modern-day wide receiver.
That prototype is all about the Bryant’s, Thomas’, Johnson’s, Jones’ and Beckham’s of today’s NFL. With the risks these guys take whenever they take the field, especially with the league’s non-guaranteed nature of player contracts and the increasingly horrific evidence of long-term health, depression and premature death issues, it’s time the Cowboys and the NFL re-evaluated player compensation.
They need to stop worrying about setting the elite wide receiver market and let that market set itself. Dez Bryant, and those like him, are what today’s NFL is all about. It’s time that they are taken care of and rewarded.
Post-Script: Bryant signed a five-year contract worth $70 million at the deadline, a deal that will pay him an average of $14 million per season. According to ESPN, $32 million is guaranteed.