While Dallas Cowboys fans and NFL observers almost universally celebrate wide receiver Dez Bryant’s new five-year, $70 million contract, it’s important to note the two downsides that accompany this kind of player investment in a capped league.
Last week we explored the likelihood that Bryant’s contract will result in dead money. Just three of the Top 10 wide receiver contracts from a year ago remain unchanged. The seven contracts that were abandoned resulted in more than $50 million in dead money for teams that invested big in a No. 1 wideout.
More from The Landry Hat
- 3 ways Cowboys’ Dak Prescott can have a bounce-back season in 2023
- Cowboys News: Dallas sets pre-draft visit with potential Dalton Schultz upgrade
- NFL executives heaping praise on offseason is uncharted territory for Cowboys
- 3 free agent signings from NFC East rivals that left Cowboys fans laughing
- Cowboys News: Brandin Cooks sends flattering message to CeeDee Lamb, Stephon Gilmore
The year Bryant turns 30, he will count $16.5 million against the Cowboys cap and carry $8 million in dead cap space.
If his play declines due to injury the same way Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s has, or due to poor quarterback play the way Arizona wideout Larry Fitzgerald’s has, the Cowboys may be faced with some tough decisions during the 2018 offseason.
Here is a breakdown of Bryant’s annual cap hit under his new deal, courtesy of overthecap.com:
|Year||Age (in Nov)||Base Salary||Signing Bonus Proration||Cap Hit||Dead Money|
In a capped league, you can’t sign everyone. Money paid to one player is money you can’t pay another. This has nothing to do with player greed, or owners being cheap. It’s simple arithmetic: Everyone has X dollars to spend on players. You allocated $17 million to a wide receiver this year. Now go build a championship roster.
Playmakers like Bryant win games in a league where most games are decided in the fourth quarter. Playmakers give you an edge. Depth also wins games in a league where violence rules and over a 16-game season every roster is hammered by attrition.
When an organization chooses to tie up $17 million in cap space on a single player, it is gambling on playmaking over depth. It is inevitable that the Cowboys will have to let some talent leave the organization because it chose to pay Bryant market value.
Here is a list of impact free agents over the next three seasons, when Bryant’s cap hit will be deep in the eight-figure range:
|Year||Free Agent||Bryant Cap Hit|
|2016||DE Jeremy Mincey||$13 million|
|DT Tyrone Crawford|
|G Ronald Leary|
|2017||S Barry Church||$17 million|
|S J.J. Wilcox|
|C Travis Frederick|
|WR Terrance Williams|
|2018||G Zack Martin||$16.5 million|
|G La’el Collins|
|DE DeMarcus Lawrence|
|LB Anthony Hitchens|
|TE Jason Witten|
You can argue that Bryant is worth it. Just recognize – this is a package deal. The Cowboys are going to have to let some talent walk because they chose to pay Bryant market value.
This Cowboys organization is as strong as it’s ever been. From the scouting department identifying talent that fits the scheme, to the front office acquiring personnel at team-friendly rates, to the coaching staff developing those players into impact contributors.
If they can continue to do that through the draft and free agency, then perhaps it makes sense to invest heavily in a generational talent like Bryant – someone who can lead in the locker room and, with the right quarterback, take over a game.
Perhaps this front office would not have made this deal if it didn’t trust the player personnel department to identify talent, and its coaching staff to develop the players they draft into impact contributors.
The good news is, the cap implications of this signing are very clearly understood at the top of the organization. Owner Jerry Jones told the Fort Worth Star Telegram in April:
"“We didn’t get here understanding cap management. My life before the Cowboys, I bought and then worried about how to pay for it. I would let my passion and enthusiasm help me bridge some of the gap between sound judgments to get there. The cap will cost you if you think like that…”"
There are downsides to Bryant’s new contract. His play is almost sure to decline in the coming years as his cap hit rises, and paying him means letting other talent sign elsewhere. Jones and his trio of decision makers – son and executive vice president Stephen Jones, head coach Jason Garrett, and assistant director of player personnel Will McClay – knew this when they made the deal.
It’s a risk, but it’s a calculated one. They believe by developing a steady influx of young, cheap talent through the draft, they can have their playmaker without sacrificing roster depth.
The decision makers at Valley Ranch aren’t gambling on Bryant with this contract – they’re gambling on themselves.