The Dez Bryant divorce from the Dallas Cowboys was messier than it should have been.
In reality, it was just bidness, as they say in Dallas. He had a big contract ($12.5 million base salaries the next two years and a $16.5 million cap number this year), and not only had his production dropped off, but Bryant had tended to wear out his welcome by being a distraction with things like his sideline outbursts. The Cowboys didn’t want him at any price, even if he had agreed to a paycut.
Still, the way it was handled on both sides left a lot to be desired.
First, owner Jerry Jones was not exactly candid when he said at the scouting combine that he wanted Bryant on the team.
Meanwhile, they waited a month to cut him after the league year started, and that cut down on his options now that many teams have spent big money. But Bryant and his agents didn’t think to get a roster bonus payable at the start of the league year, which probably would have forced the Cowboys to cut him a month ago.
And Bryant was petulant after being cut, as he told the NFL Network he was tired of being a scapegoat and that the “Garrett guys’’ (team captains under coach Jason Garrett) played a role in his departure.
But there is a larger point to Bryant’s exit. It shows how small a window most players have to make the big contract.
They play four or five years under their rookie contract before they get the big second contract if they are standout players.
But that contract puts a target on their back. As soon as they decline while the years take their toll, teams no longer are willing to pay them big money.
Bryant was the 24th pick in the 2010 class, the last one before the rookie salary cap was negotiated in the 2011 labor agreement.
He got a five-year deal worth $11.8 million with $8.3 million in guaranteed money.
Then in 2015, he got a five-year deal worth $70 million with $45 million in guaranteed money. He got $23 million guaranteed when he signed and $22 million more guaranteed as a roster bonus in 2016.
But his decline started the first year of his new contract, and now he won’t get the $25 million remaining in the last two years of his contract.
He had 381 catches from 2010 to 2014 and 150 (5.1 catches per game to 3.9) the past three years. His yards per game went from 72.3 to 53.6, while his touchdowns plummeted from 56 to 17.
The Cowboys signed Allen Hurns, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014. Hurd caught 138 balls the last three years, just 12 fewer than Bryant, so he has been as productive the last three years as Bryant. And Dallas will likely draft a wide receiver on the first round.
Now the question is how much Bryant will get on the open market now that he has been cut.
He now has little leverage compared to the leverage he had three years ago when he signed the $70 million deal.
His best days are likely behind him … along with the big paychecks.