When the Dallas Cowboys released Dez Bryant earlier this offseason, many observers, and fans, were shocked. Even though the move had been rumored for a while, and Stephen Jones had made no secret that he thought Bryant’s contract needed to be re-worked, it still hit hard. Dez Bryant had been among the team’s biggest stars for eight years.
But inside the Cowboys headquarters, there were those who thought differently. It wasn’t just Scott Linehan, despite many scapegoating him for the decision. Turns out a guy most Cowboys fans really respect was right on board with the decision. That person was Will McClay.
“It was a collective deal,” McClay said. “The (inability) to win one-on-one, to win down field. There was inconsistency as well as some huge things in his play. So what’s best moving forward for Dez Bryant the Cowboys, we just made that decision. It’s a production-based business.”
I agreed with the decision at the time. On the day he was released, I posted this article based on games I watched in replay from the 2017 season, focusing strictly on Bryant.
This is far from suggesting that Dez Bryant is done. He certainly could rededicate himself to improving his route-running, and if placed in the proper offense and used in specific ways, he could be successful. His focus needs to be better in order to reverse the dropped ball trend, and moving him around, getting him on crossing and slant patters where he can use his body to shield the ball should help him to continue and be a contributor.
For the Cowboys, though, they needed a fresh start. Not only on the field, but off the field. Bryant was a dominating personality in the Cowboys locker room and meetings, sometimes you have to hear new voices for new things to work. Not only did they change the wide receivers coach, they changed the feel and the tone of the receiver’s room.
So the Cowboys are moving on. Free agency and the draft were pretty good indicators of that. They added Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson as free agents, then turned around and added draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. For good measure, they traded for Tavon Austin, although he could see a lot of time in the backfield instead of in the slot. Regardless, if you look at the Cowboys roster they have nine wide receivers listed, plus they have Austin. That is a lot of players at one position. It’s part of the plan.
“I feel that we have been true to the thought that we were going to throw the ball in a lot of different ways, not necessarily feature going to your number one receiver, that’s a dominant receiver,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
“I do think obviously when you lose a player like Dez, and what he’s brought to the field throughout his career,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We are remaking our receiving room, if you will, including the coach. There was obviously some focus there, and as we’ve said from day one, we wanted to create a competitive situation there. I do think we wanted to do things as Jerry has said and Jason [Garrett] has said, that are Dak- friendly. We want to surround him with good players in a competitive situation so we can have the success that we think we can have. We think in terms of being able to loosen up the defense and keeping them honest so that we can have the running game there that people do respect. We don’t want them to be able to overplay that part of our game.”
The Cowboys are no longer going to depend on one star receiver to make things happen and then work the rest of the passing game around that. Whether it’s economics, whether it’s the change from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott, or whether it’s just by necessity, the Cowboys are using a committee approach to their passing game, and want to use scheme to make it happen.
“We were going to have to do it by committee or numbers, or by scheme. We were going to have to make the big plays, threaten speed, and do it by scheme. Well, I think this draft represented that.”
One thing Dez Bryant did have right, along with some other people, is that Cowboys passing scheme was very predictable. When they had Tony Romo and peak Dez Bryant and peak Jason Witten, they made it work. They no longer have that. They’ve changed the receivers, now they need to change the scheme. It’s a new era, let’s hope it works.