Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (88) can not make a catch against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. The Eagles beat the Cowboys 24-22. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys New Red Zone Threats May Make Expensive Dez Bryant Expendable


This week marked the first public back-and-forth between Cowboys ownership and wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is in the final year of his rookie contract and can expect a massive pay raise as one of the NFL’s elite wideouts.

It’s a dance we’re all familiar with, and these were merely the first tentative steps: The GM praises the player effusively, saying talks are too preliminary to discuss publicly. The player extols the many virtues of the organization that drafted him, saying he’s focused on the promise of the upcoming season rather than his future payday.

Actually, Bryant offered a little bonus in this opening salvo. When a reporter asked him if he thought he deserved to be paid as an elite receiver, Bryant responded “Yeah, I deserve it.” That bold declaration spawned the ESPN.com post subhead, Bryant: “I Deserve” Extension, Raise. Nothing drives clicks like conflict. But this was hardly antagonistic. Just a direct man answering a direct question in a direct manner.

No one disputes he’s absolutely correct. No one doubts he’s sure to get it. Bryant is a feather in the cap of a much-maligned coaching staff that helped develop a raw talent with off-the-field baggage into a consistent impact player. One wonders how Bryant might have turned out if he’d grown up under the laissez-faire leadership of the previous regime.

Though he owes much to the Cowboys for helping him become a man, and consequently a Pro Bowler, he doesn’t owe them one dime of hometown discount. Football is a violent game, and players have a brief window in which to make a payday. To illustrate, Bryant has sustained injuries to his ribs, ankle, thigh, knee, groin, hip, finger, hand, foot, hamstring, back and wrist – and those are just the various maladies that made an official injury report.

There are seven NFL receivers with contract values in excess of $10 million per season, and none of them have scored more touchdowns than Bryant over the past two years. Several weeks back I penned a post suggesting 2014 could be Bryant’s swan song season as a Cowboy. A $12 million per annum price tag is prohibitive for the position, particularly for a team with so many pressing needs. To recap:

Dez Bryant is an elite NFL talent, so he’s not exactly replaceable. The Cowboys can’t hope to let him go, and find another receiver in the draft to fill his shoes. What they can do is find another receiver to replace a portion of his production, AND upgrade at safety. Or linebacker. Or guard. Or any number of positions along the defensive line. They can be somewhat weaker at the wide receiver position, but stronger overall as a team.

While I still think that’s true, a closer look at Bryant’s numbers suggests his true elite value lies in red zone production. Bryant caught 13 touchdown passes last season, and 10 of them were inside the red zone. Heck, nine of them were five yards or less. He was more drive capper than game breaker. Bryant’s touchdown production was remarkable, but nothing a strong running game couldn’t adequately replace.

In fact, Bryant’s red zone production was nearly matched by an undrafted rookie free agent tight end last year. New passing game coordinator Scott Linehan turned Joseph Fauria into a red zone beast in Detroit. The 6’7″ rookie caught seven touchdowns, the longest of which was just 23 yards, and had no drops. Fauria had few suitors during draft season, but Linehan saw a weapon in the freakishly tall, sure-handed youngster, and he schemed accordingly.

How pumped do you suppose Gavin Escobar was when he found out Linehan had joined the Dallas coaching staff? He’s a second-year player so under-used he’s practically still in the wrapper, smoldering with the potential of a 6’6″ frame and famously sticky hands.

The Cowboys are certainly better on offense with Bryant than without him, but someone is going to pay the 26-year-old $10 to $12 million per season for the next five years. If GM Jerry Jones‘ investment in the offensive line improves the running game as hoped, and Linehan can do with Escobar what he did with Fauria, it may not be the Cowboys.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys Dez Bryant Gavin Escobar

  • Gregory Isaac

    We have no proven red zone threats but Dez and Dez is more than a red zone threat he’s a big part of our offense. Real Cowboys fans that know football would never say he’s expendable. I love Romo but I would rather do without him than Dez.

  • Malcolm Currie

    One problem with this theory, the Cowboys have no intention of giving Murray a big payday so how do they have a running game beyond this year that can score inside the red zone with those other backs they have on the current roster and furthermore Fauria was able to have that kind of production because everyone was focused on Megatron and Reggie Bush

  • Joe Faulkner

    Sometimes I wonder where they get writers for articles like this one. Sure we have some additional red zone targets and hopefully a better run game with a better O line but you have to get to the red zone to be a target. Bryant most of the time commands a double team meaning someone else has single coverage or on a run play, one less man to stop the run. If we don’t have Bryant then please Mr. Writer who is going to command that double team and allow another WR to possibly move the chains. There is an old saying, measure twice, cut once. Seems like most of the writers, write first and think later (if at all).

    • Dana

      Wow!! I agree.

  • David Morgan

    I like the thinking here. Dallas has so many needs that paying exorbitantly for a receiver (albeit a great one) may not be the wisest course to take. Spread the wealth & upgrade elsewhere.

    As for the argument that Murray will not get a big pay day from Dallas…who said he’s getting a big pay day from anyone? Running backs don’t pull down the big bucks like they used to, especially runners with an injury history as long as Murray’s. I’d bet he resigns with the Cowboys.

  • Patrick

    Nuts. Forget the touchdowns. Forget the spectacular catches. Forget the incredible growth in production that Dez has provided this team.
    Dez’ REAL value, is his unmatched drive to make this TEAM the best. Pretend, which you’ll have to do, that, someone else could come in and come anywhere close to the production Dez has during the last several years; you’ll NEVER replace the drive to be great, not just for himself but for the TEAM, that Dez has.
    Believing that you can just run out to the grocery store, and replace that drive, which is more meaningful for success than any other attribute, is…nuts.
    There is ONE, and I love this team like a brother, but there is ONE completely unreplaceable player on this team, and that is DEZ.

  • David

    Wow I have words to describe this writers theory but I will be nice and hold my tongue so to speak. You use Fauria as an example of how Escobar could make Dez expendable. Well the main reason Fauria can be effective in the red zone is Megatron. Otherwise he would be attracting more attention over the top. So under your logic the Lions should have let Megatron go.

  • Guy Smith

    Yes, Let’s get rid of our best, and only Veteran wideout in Dez Bryant, and while we’re at it, let Weeden take over as QB..I stopped coming here for awhile because the writers here are either clowns, drink the bong water. or never watched a football game.

    • Earl Robertson

      Lol

  • Old Frog

    The question is, “how much is Dez worth”? I think $900,000/game is too rich.

  • truthbetold

    This is really sad. It’s indicative of the terrible decision making that has crippled this franchise financially. All the bad decisions, including giving 55 million dollars guaranteed to a QB who has accomplished nothing, has reduced the franchise to speculating on the release on their elite wide receiver in order to save bucks. Crazy.

  • Ed

    Here’s a big cluster of “if”. If Terrance Williams, Beasley and Escobar can make a leap to the next level, and IF the rookie Street proves to be a great route runner on the inside, and IIFF Murray, Dunbar, and the former Cardinal Williams can at least alternate their injury schedules, THEN yes they can do without Bryant. But IIIFFF all that could happen, holy moly, what would that turn Dez into?

    Here is my real opinion, I agree that they can’t get trapped into spending stupid money, but they need to find a way to spend smart money. They can do it for Romo, they can do it for Bryant.

  • Kyle L.

    Seriously? New red zone threats make Dez expendable? Dez IS THE red zone threat. So, Dez is expendable because we have T. Williams (2ndyear), Devin Street (Rookie), Cole Beasely, and Dwayne Harris? Do you hear how dumb that sounds? A Top 5 WR just entering his prime, on this team, is nowhere near expendable. On top of that, one if the main reasons for letting Dware and Hatcher go was that we’d be able to resign Tyron Smith AND Dez to long-term deals. If Jerry Jones were to get rid of Dez when the whole point of letting DWare go was to have the necessary cap room to resign Dez (and T. Smith), there would be a Cowboys fan revolt with riots in the streets outside of Cowboys, er, AT&T Stadium.

    • John

      I agree it would be dumb to suggest a wide receiver corps of Williams, Street, Beasley and Harris makes Dez expendable, but that was not the point of this post. The point of this post was Dez may be expendable because the Cowboys have Gavin Escobar… So… Yeah…

  • Earl Robertson

    After reading all the comments I see a lot of ones are big fans of Dez! I am also, the guy has mature off the field and has become a monster on the field. Plus I love how he acted in the Lions game, he is sick and tired of the stupidity that results in losing. And I agree he means so much to the offense. I hate the salary cap because it punshies a team for drafting a player and developing him into a star. Because if Bryant gets 12 million that is going to hurt the already tight cap cowboys are under. As much as I would hate to see Bryant go I also still believe that you build a team with a great O line and D line and then you draft players to fill the other spots. But then when a player like Bryant comes up for a contract what do you do!? It would be crazy to let him go but like the writer said how many players can you get form12 million a year? To me this is a harder decision because Bryant is so good but Cowboys have so many holes. I guess what ever happens I can’t complain about it