Dallas Cowboys: The downside of Dez Bryant’s contract


How much longer can wide receiver Dez Bryant produce at an elite clip? The Dallas Cowboys are banking on three more years, hoping for a fourth, and could take or leave a fifth. So suggests the structure of Bryant’s 5-year, $70 million contract.

Below is a breakdown from overthecap.com of how those dollars will impact the next five caps.

YearAge (in Nov)Base SalarySigning Bonus ProrationCap HitDead Money

By year four the dead money sneaks under eight digits and makes cutting Bryant at least a realistic possibility. Bryant turns 30 in November of that year. But the Cowboys are betting heavily that Bryant can produce at least for the next three years like he has for the last three.

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To get an idea of how realistic that is, we can look at two other consensus elite receivers – Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Both were blowing minds with their play when they signed mega deals.

Let’s look at how their production when they were 24, 25, and 26 compares to what they did when they were 27, 28, and 29.

First let’s establish that Bryant belongs with these two guys. Here is the three-season average for each player from ages 24 to 26. All data is from profootballreference.com:

Average Season – Age 24-26

That’s a tight group. You could say Bryant is the best of the three, but you’d be splitting hairs. All three are elite. Now look at the production trend for Fitzgerald and Johnson from ages 27 to 29 – the same ages that the Cowboys are betting Bryant will maintain his elite production:

Larry Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s decline is pretty steep. That may have something to do with quarterback Kurt Warner’s retirement following the 2009 season – the year Fitzgerald turned 27. The quarterback carousel in Arizona since has done little to utilize Fitzgerald’s talent.

Still, that should serve as a cautionary tale to the Cowboys. Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo is 35. If he plays as long as Warner did he’s got another solid four seasons ahead of him. If not, then Bryant could decline like Fitzgerald did with a parade of journeymen throwing him the ball.

Calvin Johnson

Johnson is showing signs of decline as well. After his record-breaking season in 2012, fueled by a ridiculous 13 targets per game, he had an excellent year when he turned 28 and a very good, though injury-hampered season last year.

Johnson turns 30 in September. He will count more than $20 million against the Lions cap in each of the next three years, and his contract still carries nearly $21 million in dead money. To all you Bryant supporters who’ve spent the past few months hollering, “Just Pay The Man:” I admire your passion, and I’m thankful none of you are the general manager of my favorite team.

The smart money predicts a decline for Bryant over the next three years. So when he’s 29, and his cap figure is $17 million, he’s unlikely to be the same player he was last year. And he plays with such physicality, such ferocity – how long before his body starts breaking down?

Almost surely, this contract will result in dead money on some future cap, making it more difficult for some as-yet undefined iteration of the Dallas Cowboys to field a competitive roster.

The Cowboys got Bryant for the prime of his career, and very likely some future version of the team will pay for it after he’s gone. There are keen arguments for and against such a tradeoff. Just recognize – it’s a package deal.

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