The NFL Combine has been called many things. It is seen as a massive job fair for top draft prospects, a meeting where all kinds of open and clandestine wheeling and dealing is done between teams, a circus atmosphere where some put too much emphasis on odd drills and a lot of measurements, and my own contribution, the Greatest Show in Shorts. But another description also fits: Information overload.
In addition to all the activity on the field in Indianapolis, it is also a time when coaches, owners, and GMs all hold forth on a variety of topics. And sometimes, the constant flow of comments from top figures can be rather confusing. Early during the proceedings, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones stirred up the Dallas fan base and the media with his very lukewarm comments about Dez Bryant, his contract, and how his performance in 2017 seems to make that salary and cap hit not sustainable. He seemed to open the door to the possibility of demanding a pay cut, and an outright release if Bryant was not agreeable.
But on Saturday, owner and GM Jerry Jones (and, of course, Stephen’s father) held forth on the subject. And what he had to say sounded very different, as reported by Dave Helman of DallasCowboys.com.
The senior Jones has long had a very strong relationship with Bryant, dating back to when the Cowboys took a bit of a risk drafting him. That is something Jerry Jones plans to continue even as the team seeks to figure out how to make some cap adjustments with Bryant.
“We plan on visiting with him about his business. We are both very comfortable, being very candid,” Jones said. “When you have got that kind of relationship and I do with him, then I’m optimistic when I am sitting here this time next year we would have done a real good job on his business.”
While Jerry talked like he has every intention of doing right by Bryant, he did confirm one part of what Stephen said earlier. The team does see a need to do something to lessen Bryant’s cap hit, even if Jerry still thinks he has a lot to contribute.
“We have addressed guys in the prime of their careers’ contract before,” he said. “We have made adjustments in their contracts. We continue to look for ways to improve your value on your roster.”
But the big difference in how the father and son view the situation lies in how they addressed where Bryant would be playing this fall.
However vague Jones might have been about the process, he was clear about his desired result – which is that, one way or another, Bryant remain right where he is.
“You have asked me as I sit here ‘Do you want him on the team next year,’ and my answer is yes,” he said.
This does not seem an insignificant difference of opinion. It leaves us to wonder what exactly is going on. Here are some possible explanations for the variance in how the two have been talking.
They may indeed just have a differing view of how to handle things.
Jerry has long been seen as very attached to many players, identifying with them more closely than any other owner. That lies partly in his role as GM, a unique one in the league, which means he deals directly with his roster far more than the rest of the ownership. It also reflects his often seen sentimentality. He honestly loves his players and feels a bond with them. It has led to too much loyalty at times, and some mistakes have resulted.
Stephen is far more pragmatic than his father, and often seems to be the more adult of the two. He also is the primary manager of the cap and contracts. Over recent years, we have seen the team make some fairly hard-nosed calls that seem to originate from Stephen’s office. The two have truly different roles in the team, and we have seen before that they do not always agree - including the well-known story of Stephen pushing Jerry against a wall and explaining exactly how the cow ate the cabbage.
It is hard to say which would prevail if it came to a showdown over Bryant’s contract. But in the end, Jerry has the final say - no matter how strongly Stephen may disagree.
Maybe they are playing good cop/bad cop.
This is a favorite theory of fellow writer and podcaster Michael Sisemore. He thinks that they are using the hoary practice of one being tough and the other sympathetic to manipulate the Bryant camp a bit. In this scenario, they are actually largely in agreement on how they want to work this out, but feel that both the carrot and the stick are useful in negotiations.
There certainly is a chance they are just engaging in some gamesmanship, and using the media as a tool to get the word out. That reliance on negotiating through interviews and public statements is an unfortunate choice. It is, however, one that they have used before. In part, it is something that Jerry has created with his frequent inability to stop talking when in the presence of microphones. Stephen has apparently inherited that trait, or maybe has resorted to it defensively in light of how Jerry runs his mouth. In any case, the two approaches are now very much public. We will have to see how things play out.
It all could be more a creation of the media than a real issue between father and son.
While Stephen did not rule out the possibility of parting ways with Bryant, he did not exactly signal that it was a desired outcome in any way. But his comments were seized on and turned into headlines. No team generates interest like the Cowboys, and the reporters are well aware of it. And many of them don’t hesitate to fan the flames.
But if you read through all the statements by both the GM and the VP, there is certainly a lot of room left for maneuvering, and has been well documented by writers such as K.D. Drummond of Cowboys Wire, the team can resort to another restructure to free up millions in cap space without affecting Bryant’s pocketbook.
The reality of things may be that the team wants to explore the idea of a pay cut (which would be the best scenario for them financially and risk-wise), but will back off if Bryant’s camp is not receptive. Jerry certainly seems to be signalling that with his statements.
It is a rare moment where Stephen seems to have done a poor job of choosing his statements and Jerry has come in to restore a bit of rationality to things. It certainly seems to be a reason to dial back the panic over the team messing this situation up beyond salvaging. There is a long way to go, and despite his role in creating the furor, Stephen is still a very smart executive. With Jerry now standing behind his wide receive, a positive outcome does look more likely now.