Dez Bryant Not Selfish; Dallas Cowboys Not Wrong


The Dallas Cowboys are not foolish for refusing to meet All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant’s contract demands, and Bryant is not a big, fat, rich jerk for refusing the $114 million contract his team has reportedly already offered.

The tendency for NFL observers in any contract dispute is to choose sides. Most NFL observers are men, and men are problem solvers by nature. Most NFL observers have a passion for a particular team or particular player, and that passion influences their thinking.

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Passion and reason are like oil and water. In the case of the Dallas Cowboys vs. Dez Bryant, both parties are behaving reasonably. Bryant, like any reasonable employee, wants as much money as he can get. Dallas, like any reasonable employer in the NFL, is wary of the salary cap restrictions.

Without a salary cap, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would have spent the past 20 years buying championships a la George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees. Only problem is, deep pockets matter little in the NFL. General managers all have a similar personnel budget, and all have to be smart with it.

Money spent on one player is money that can’t be spent on another. So money doesn’t matter in the NFL. Cap space is everything. Bryant is demanding money. The Cowboys are conserving cap space. Both are absolutely right to do so.

“Pay the man” is a frequent refrain from Bryant supporters. He’s earned it, they argue, and they’re right. He’s the best receiver in football, they argue, and they’re right. He deserves to be paid like the best, they argue, and they’re right.

Dez is worth the money, they argue, and they’re right.

But this isn’t about money. Is Bryant worth the cap space? That’s the only question that matters.

“Pay the man” is passion, not reason. This isn’t Major League Baseball. This is a capped league. In a capped league, every dollar you pay one player is a dollar you can’t pay another.

Who should the Cowboys NOT re-sign, in order to allocate Calvin Johnson-type cap space to Dez Bryant? Disruptive defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford? Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick? Who are you willing to part with so you can simply “pay the man?” Come on, Mr. GM. Mr. Pay The Man. This is the NFL. Championships aren’t bought, they’re haggled.

The Cowboys have changed the way they think about the cap. They manage it today, and they train one eye to the future. I predicted this over a year ago. When everyone was sure Dallas would re-sign Bryant to a long-term deal before his rookie contract expired, I predicted the franchise tag or free agency:

"“Bryant’s agent can piece together a very compelling argument that his client is worth $14 to $15 million a year. Whoever ends up paying Bryant will get one of the best receivers in the league, and miss out on signing multiple other talented players. It’s a package deal. This is the reality of a capped league, and it will make the decision to pay or part ways with Bryant a tough one.”"

I don’t know the right decision. Bryant is such an important part of the offense and the locker room. On the flip side, signing him to the deal he wants means the team will have to part with other impactful players and endure certain dead money on some future cap.

It’s not about the money. It’s about future iterations of the Dallas Cowboys, both with and without Bryant. It’s about sustained success. It’s about roster depth. It’s about Crawford and Frederick. It’s about All Pro guard Zack Martin. It’s about the possibilities presented by newcomers such as Randy Gregory, La’el Collins, and Byron Jones.

It’s about cap space. You can’t pay everyone. So perhaps we can all agree to drop the phrase, “Pay the man.” Passion wins on the field. Reason wins the offseason.

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