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Dez Bryant's Contract: The Salary Ramifications

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Taking a quick look at the salary cap implications of Dez Bryant's new 5-year, $70 million contract as well as his current and historical place among WRs.

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Good news, everyone!

No. Really. It is. Much angst has been displayed and many hands wrung awaiting the deal that just got done. And with good reason -- as we shall see shortly, Dez Bryant is in extremely rare air that only a few players ever breathe. It would be a disaster to let him get away. The question was not about how good Dez can be as a player, it was whether his market value would instantly torpedo the cap of any team that signed him to a long term deal. After all, someone must lose in order for someone to win, right?

The Dallas Cowboys have just made Dez Bryant an extremely happy man...

"I smiled the whole way over here -- I couldn't even say nothing but just smile and laugh, because I couldn't believe it," Bryant told a reporter for the team's website.

And vice-versa.

"We know what he means to the team in many different ways, and he's evolved, to his credit. He's evolved into a player where he's indispensable to us," Jones said. "This is a real cornerstone as we look at the pieces that we're putting together."

The contract is pretty straightforward. It's worth $14 million a year on average, over five years for a total of $70m. The $45m guaranteed number seems high, and we are told that it was the sticking point, but it amounts to the first three years of the deal. Dez can be released for salary cap savings in 2018.  The structure is as follows:

Signing bonus: $20m

2015: $3m salary (fully guaranteed), $7m cap impact, $32m dead money if cut.

2016: $9m salary (fully guaranteed), $13m cap impact, $38m dead money if cut.

(Pause)

Some of you may be wondering why the dead money increased. The 2017 salary is the "virtual guarantee" referenced by some. Reportedly, Bryant's 2017 salary becomes fully guaranteed five days after the start of the 2016 season. Long story, short; if Dallas doesn't take a huge hit to cut him in the first week of the 2016 off season, his 2017 money is guaranteed. If Dallas were to cut Dez in that time period, they would only incur $25m dead money (piece of cake, right?)

2017: $13m salary (guaranteed as of March 2016), $17m cap impact, $25m dead money if cut.

2018: $12.5m salary, $16.5m cap impact, $8m dead money if cut. Note that this is the year that my earlier analysis predicts as the end of the peak plateau for Dez-level NFL receivers.

2019: $12.5m salary, $16.5m cap impact, $4m dead money if cut.

2020: Free Agent

This leaves Dallas with $17m in cap space right now (some of which is likely to be eaten before the season's end, by Greg Hardy if nothing else), $13m in 2016, and $27m in 2017.  It seems likely that Dallas will restructure Dez at least once, adding voidable years to his contract. The real concern fans had, though, was avoiding "Megatron money". While Dez's guarantee ended up quite close to Calvin Johnson's, there is a distinct difference for the moment. Johnson's next five years will all impact the cap for more than $17m. Dez's contract currently only reaches that number one time and that year itself is the most likely to be restructured. The next three years Johnson impacts the Lions' cap for over $20m each, with a peak of $24m in 2016. Dez's contract should not touch those numbers, even with restructures.

Still audible, however, are the cries of those unsure of the deal.  "Is he worth it?" Let's see.

Dez has spent five years in the NFL.  In that time, he is 10th in receptions with an illustrious list ahead of him. He is 5th in yardage, which is extremely impressive and means he gets downfield quite handily.  He is also 7th in catch percentage among those who have a minimum 500 targets. But the really impressive stat is that he leads the NFL in TDs in that time. That's right, in the heart of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Mike Wallace's primes, with the emergence of Jimmy Graham, Demaryius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski, and with Antonio Gates still capable of putting up a 12 TD season like he did in 2014, Dez Bryant leads all receivers in touchdowns.

But how do his five seasons stack up historically? What did the all-time greats do in their first five seasons? He's 11th all time in receptions, 12th all time in yardage, and 3rd all time (behind only Rice and Moss) in TDs for the first five seasons of a career. For one last bit of historical perspective, we can examine where he stands all-time on the Cowboys leader boards. He's 5th in career receptions, tucked neatly ahead of Bob Hayes and behind Tony Hill. He's passed Frank Clarke for 6th in all-time yardage, though he has a ways to go before passing Bob Hayes (and his ridiculous career 19.99 yards per catch average). He has played less  than 60% of Bullet Bob's games, though. Finally, on the TD list he resides 4th; with one less TD catch in his five-year career than Jason Witten has in his 12 years in the league. From there, only Michael Irvin and the team-leading Hayes await.

Considering that his rookie contract carried him this high up a fairly storied franchise leader board, replete with two Canton residents and a certain TE who certainly has a spot awaiting him when (if?) he finishes playing, Dez Bryant looks to be worth every penny.