At this point, it’s hard to really be all that shocked that the Cowboys parted ways with Dez Bryant. In the back of all our minds as this process went from days to weeks to months, we knew that this could very well be the eventual ending. We may not all be happy campers about it (I’m certainly not) but it’s a reality in the NFL and we’ll soon need to accept it.
It starts with a notion believed by folks both inside and outside the organization itself: Dez Bryant is no longer among the top NFL receivers nor is he a capable WR1 for the Cowboys.
(For a visual, here are his numbers over the last three seasons since signing a five-year, $70 million contract)
To put it plainly, his numbers are ugly, very much swaying into single file line with the notion that has been shared by those in favor of his release. Last year was the first in the last three seasons that Bryant led his team in receiving. We can agree that from a business standpoint, Dez Bryant was becoming a bad investment. While agreeing on that basis of the decision can we also agree that all the nonsense that got to this point is equally concerning?
The well-publicized dissension all offseason long inside the organization between pro-Dez and anti-Dez camps is exhausting. At some point a decision was reached that the Cowboys were going to become more Dak-friendly and to do so they had to become Dez-less. That decision is clearly not shared by everyone involved in the decision making. It’s also not going all that smoothly within the locker room. It’s fine, you expect a little backlash but what effect will this have on the locker room that is already one of the least-experienced in football?
Every offseason there has to be some hanging cloud that lingers until everyone is completely worn down, then the Cowboys make that decision. This offseason was about change, changing everything but who’s in charge that is. Despite their total offense dipping from fifth to 14th in one season, they put the blame on positional coaches, turning over the entire staff except Gary Brown. They double downed on Scott Linehan and presumably gave him more power, anyone else just a little bit concerned?
All trepidation has little to do with the actual act of releasing Dez Bryant but more to do with questioning this plan to improve? Perhaps the Cowboys don’t feel like they need to pay a star receiver with their type of run-first mentality, statistics would support that claim. Maybe the Cowboys feel tailoring an RPO-type offense requires them to change the type of receiver they want. Well, if that’s the case, why go after Deonte Thompson (a similar player to Brice Butler) and Allen Hurns (a poor man’s Dez)? They replaced two receivers and their athletic profiles with two receivers of similar profiles.
If this is all about making the offense more Dak-friendly, how will they change their offense to fit around him? It’s probably not by signing the same types of players to replace what’s leaving. They need to open up the flood gates of creativity and change their style of offense. When you think of creativity, portraits of Linehan and Garrett do not come to mind. These are two guys that presided over an offense last season that scored more than 28 points nine different times but had four games where they failed to reach 10 points. In those four games, the offense was absolutely lost, a portion of that certainly goes on coaching.
This offense sees itself at it’s best when they’re running the football with Ezekiel Elliott behind a vaunted offensive line. However, that offensive line is looking for a starting guard and you can’t just rely on one ticket to winning. When they’re dominating on the ground, the passing game should benefit too. The problem is that when defenses aren’t threatened by your passing attack and choke your run, it brings the offense to a screeching halt. Getting rid of Dez Bryant makes some of us uneasy because even if he’s declining, he was the Cowboys top receiver last year.
That’s what’s so hard about all this because Terrance Williams contributed little to nothing last season, Cole Beasley was completely taken away, Jason Witten cannot be a heavy contributor anymore, and Ryan Switzer was hardly used. All of those guys will be relied heavily upon in 2018 to bounce back. Despite not seeing it consistently in some time, we’ve at least seen Dez do it before. Now, the offense is looking to hit the reset button at receiver and that’s just a little bit nerve racking. Adding the receivers they did in free agency looked a whole lot better when 88 was still on the roster.
We know the Cowboys are meeting with or working out just about every receiver in this year’s draft but receiver is arguably one of the hardest positions to make an immediate impact at. Who’s to say this staff will know what to do with a D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, James Washington, or DaeSean Hamilton?
The Cowboys may be content with Allen Hurns serving as their top receiving threat for at least a season but part of ability is availability to which he’s missed 11 games in the past two years. Wide receiver was already atop the Cowboys list when you look at their pre-draft visits but does Bryant’s release now make it a glaring need?
Part of a successful front office is knowing when to make these tough decisions and when to be a little more patient. As much as Jerry Jones has been criticized over the years about knowing when to fold, maybe Stephen Jones should receive his share for being overly eager to play his hand. The Cowboys just weren’t interested in seeing Dez Bryant suit up for them any longer and they handled it about as poorly as you can. Hopefully, when the smoke clears, there will be some shred of method among all this madness.