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Now that Dez Bryant has been released, what’s next for the Cowboys?

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It appears to have been a bumpy and poorly navigated road to get here, but it’s time to look forward.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

There are a lot of ways the release of Dez Bryant by the Dallas Cowboys has been described. Debacle, disaster, and dysfunction are just three terms that come to mind. Some also see it as being a necessary step given the fall-off in production for Bryant and the descriptions of him as a distraction by Stephen Jones. Either way, it is the end of a significant career in Dallas. We are all entitled to our emotions.

But don’t become too mired in the past. What’s done is done. Now the team has to move forward. We now need to look forward and try to figure out just what this means for the team this year, and into the future.

Here are some things we may (or may not) see going forward.

Wide receiver is now an even bigger priority in the draft - but not necessarily in the first round.

You can be assured that there are going to be a ton more mock drafts with Dallas picking a wide receiver like Calvin Ridley, D.J. Moore, Courtland Sutton, or whoever is the mockers’ favorite flavor. (It has already happened at DallasCowboys.com.) But there are problems with that. Using a first-round pick on a wide receiver is not always a cost-effective way to spend your draft capital. College receivers often take a while to adjust to the pro game - and many who racked up big yards and lots of touchdowns in the NCAA fizzle at the next level. There is also a valid argument that the Cowboys are not really looking for a Dez replacement at all as they shift to a different approach on offense. This Twitter discussion between two of our old friends here at BTB sums it up.

It is certainly arguable that the team was trying to do this last year, and part of the reason for failure was that Bryant just did not seem to be able to run sharp, predictable routes, making it hard for Dak Prescott (who lacks Tony Romo’s incredible ability to improvise) to get the ball to him effectively. If the staff is indeed trying to restructure the offense away from having that big-threat WR1, it would seem much more effective to go after a WR later in the draft, focusing on one who has the requisite route precision and ability to create separation.

Even more importantly, 2018 does not offer a class with a lot of those traditional feature wide receivers. There is really no consensus on who are the best of this group. Just look at almost any two different prospect rankings, and you get widely varying opinions on who is a first-round talent. (To see what I mean, you can click the links and compare the CBS rankings with those at Drafttek.) Since the first-round pick is obviously the one you don’t want to get wrong, it makes much more sense for Dallas to look for the sweet spot at WR later in the draft, like in the third or fourth round where there are still likely to be some solid talents available.

We may be seeing another step in the transition of power between Jerry and Stephen Jones.

Although it is more inference than anything, this seems to be yet another case of the son prevailing over his father in team decisions. Since Stephen Jones first started talking about the possibility that the team would move on from Bryant (which likely was something he was working toward all along), Jerry was countering things with his comments on how much Bryant meant to the team and his anticipation that he would continue to wear 88 in Dallas this year. It seems obvious now who won out.

It also indicates that Stephen is now working much more closely with the rest of the staff than his father. Jerry himself offered some evidence of that in his statement about Bryant’s release:

We arrived at this crossroad collectively with input from several voices within the organization. Ultimately we determined that it was time to go in a new direction.

That “several voices” is telling, and confirms the multiple reports prior to the release that more than one person was pushing for the team to move on. In addition to Stephen Jones, the most likely one was Scott Linehan. He apparently engineered the wholesale replacement of almost the entire offensive side of the coaching staff, including everyone involved in the passing game. There was also at least one report that new wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal was far from being a Dez fan. What is unknown is where Jason Garrett stood in all this, as he was always somewhat noncommittal in his remarks on the situation. He may have been on Jerry’s side, part of the “dump Dez” group, or perhaps he served as a consensus builder who sought more to get the staff on the same page while letting others like Stephen Jones and Linehan drive the arguments.

Whatever the process, and however dysfunctional it was, it is now over. And that means for some, the chips have been all pushed to the center of the table.

For Garrett and Linehan, this could become a make or break decision.

Even if Garrett was more a passenger on this train that Linehan was driving, both now have no more scapegoats to blame. Either this works out and the Cowboys at least get back to the playoffs (and just squeaking in to go one-and-done may not be enough), or both are likely to be getting those resumes polished up. If 2018 is another 8-8 or worse season, Garrett is not going to get another chance. At least that certainly seems how things are pointing. And given how Linehan has now basically gotten everything he wanted, from seeing Bryant gone, to replacing Derek Dooley (who also was reported to not be completely on board with the offensive plans last year), and getting his adoptive son Kellen Moore hired as quarterbacks coach, it is hard to envision him surviving the staff turnover that would be precipitated by another failed campaign. Even a rash of injuries or suspensions might not be excuse for not making the postseason or not doing something once the Cowboys get there.

The head coach and offensive coordinator are all in this season. They have to prove they made the right bet.

The silver (and blue) lining.

Yes, there is a (possible) upside to this regrettable circus that really should have been resolved weeks ago, and could have even been used to possibly engineer a trade. What if this all works?

Let’s face it, if the Cowboys make the playoffs and win at least one game, this will be seen as a good move by the team. If they should really beat the odds and go all the way to the Super Bowl, it will be considered brilliant - even if, for instance, the real foundation of success turns out to be a greatly improved defense that allows the offense to be more concerned with managing the clock and protecting the ball than putting up gobs of points. And given that Ezekiel Elliott will not have the same issues as last season, that could be exactly what the team is really trying to do.

That is not to say that the Cowboys will automatically become a much more effective offense without Bryant. What is does say is that it can find a different way to succeed than throwing jump balls at Dez and relying on him to come down with the catch. It takes a few “ifs”, but if the receiving group can improve the route-running to give Prescott more than one option when he passes, if they can hang onto the ball when he gets it to them, and if the running game does recover its mojo with a healthy line and possible upgrade at left guard from the draft, this could look a lot more like the 2016 version of the team than what we saw stumble its way through last season.

It’s going to take a lot of work. Dallas has to draft wisely, and not just in the first round. The receivers room has to put in some hard and lengthy work on timing and those routes. Elliott has to have a real fire in his belly. And Prescott needs to take the next step to overcome the obvious yips he had in his game last year, especially after the pounding he took against the Atlanta Falcons. Those are not certain to happen, but they are also not at all beyond the realm of possibility.

The way Dez left Dallas was traumatic, but this was hardly something NFL teams rarely go through.

Nor is it something the Cowboys have not gone through before. Since Jerry Jones has owned the team, it has parted ways with Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Emmitt Smith - and Tom Landry.

This team can recover from trauma and move forward. It may not do so with consistent effectiveness, but 2016 showed that it can make a big turnaround even without an all-time talent like Romo on the field. Now they have to do it again, and that is also something many NFL teams have to do every season.

If this year’s edition of the team succeeds, we soon be over the trauma of this Friday the 13th horror story. If not, then changes will come, and the cycle will begin anew.