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The Dez Bryant debate: Opinions abound about his future in Dallas

Is he a fading superstar who needs to go, or a valuable asset used in the wrong way?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There is no shortage of opinion about Dez Bryant’s skills, contract, or future with the Dallas Cowboys. Once one of the league’s most feared receivers, Bryant’s number have been in decline. Theories abound as to why - age, injuries, used incorrectly, or no chemistry with Dak Prescott. It’s likely some combination of those things, but one thing is for sure, he is not playing up to his contract. Bryant has a base salary of $12.5 million for the 2018 season and a cap hit of $16.5 million. That is a lot of money to pay a receiver who hasn't hit 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdowns in three years.

I’ve gone on record stating that the issue is that Tony Romo was the exact right kind of quarterback for Bryant. He was able to “throw” Bryant open with jump balls and back-should fades. That helped because Dez is not the fastest receiver or a great route-runner; he’s a physical mismatch though and Romo took advantage. Since 2015, his numbers have been in decline, not coincidentally he hasn’t had Romo in those years. Dak Prescott’s game, the way he throws, the decisions he makes, do not favor the way Bryant played the game with Romo.

That brings us around to the 2018 offseason. Since Bryant’s production is no longer matching his contract, there have been debates about whether Dallas should release him or ask him to take a paycut.

For the first time, the Cowboys front office is making noise that all is not right with Dez and the Cowboys. Stephen Jones has gone on record basically saying they are looking at the situation, and also noted that Bryant’s sideline behavior is a distraction at times.

For any Cowboys observer, this definitely represents a new view on Bryant from the front office.

So what to do?

Michael Irvin has a definite opinion which he recently shared.

“You don’t find No. 1 receivers hanging off trees like leaves,” Irvin said Monday on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “So what are you gonna do, let Dez go? Who you got to replace him? You think they can just find No. 1 receivers? Every team would have ‘em. They’d litter ‘em. They would litter ‘em. You don’t find them this easily. The Cowboys would be stupid -- stupid -- to let this boy go right now.”

There is one flaw in Irvin’s argument. Bryant is in no way playing like a No. 1 receiver. The numbers bear this out, but there is another way to look at it. A receiver’s numbers can decline if defenses are paying attention to him with double-teams, “bracket” zones and the like. A No. 1 receiver should still be able to beat that sometimes, but for the sake of argument, attention from a defense can bring a receivers production down. I went back and reviewed three games from 2017, and in no way were defenses rolling safeties toward Dez, or bracketing him underneath, anymore than they would with a regular receiver. They used a lot of single coverage on Bryant, with safeties playing their normal zones most of the time. Dez was not commanding the extra attention that you might see from a defense trying to stop a No. 1 receiver. Bryant was not altering the defensive game plan at all.

When ranking the top 15 receivers in the NFL today, Bryant doesn’t even make the cut.

So should the Cowboys just cut Bryant? That’s some people’s opinion, like this article from NFL.com.

Dallas Cowboys: Cut Dez Bryant.

Releasing Bryant wouldn’t single-handedly improve the Cowboys and put them back on the path to the Super Bowl. But it would show that these aren’t the same old Cowboys, overvaluing their own players and hanging on to stars at least a year too long. No organization has struggled with success more than the Cowboys under Jerry Jones, and it is partly because of this emotional thinking. Bryant is Jerry’s guy, and the loyalty has paid off handsomely for both sides until recently. Retaining Bryant at a $16.5 million cap number after three straight seasons under 1,000 yards is the type of old-school decision you’d only see from a franchise that is old-school enough to have ownership making personnel decisions. At some point, the process has to change, or the results never will.

My opinion: Bryant can still be a useful piece of the offense, but they need to start using him more on slants, ins, crossing patterns and the like and quit just lobbing passes up to him downfield. Romo was a master at placing balls in spots for Bryant to catch, Prescott has not shown that same skill.

Sure, the Cowboys should go back to Bryant and try to get a paycut, but it’s doubtful Bryant would even entertain such a proposition. The Cowboys will have to either release him, or figure out how to use him to make his production really mean something.

That’s just my opinion, what’s yours?