Just a few short months ago, I sat down to write an article about why Dez Bryant would “Return to Dominance in 2017.” You can read the article here if you would like to make fun of me. I understood at the time that Bryant’s production over the last couple seasons had been anything but impressive.
Yet, I decided to give Bryant the benefit of the doubt. Consecutive seasons of lower body injuries, as well as inconsistency at the quarterback position was bound to hurt his production. With a developing second year quarterback in Dak Prescott and a healthy off-season, Dez Bryant was bound to be better. Right?
Dez Bryant finished the 2017 campaign with 69 receptions for 838 yards and only six touchdowns. Bryant hasn’t had a 100 yard regular season game since November of 2016. Dez’s stat line over the last couple years looks much more like a WR2 than a WR1. It truly is no secret, Bryant now possesses the skill set of a secondary receiver , not a primary receiver who is set to absorb $12.5 million against the Cowboys already tight salary cap. Dez Bryant has been on record stating he would not accept a pay cut because “I believe in me“.
Bryant’s situation is not one unique to him. The NFL is full of wide receivers who have declined from their former roles of prominence. What makes a few of these receivers so special, and most likely hall of famers, was their self-awareness. Players like Larry Fitzgerald (who tore the Cowboys secondary apart earlier in the season), or the recently retired Anquan Boldin, were able to reinvent themselves and still be valuable contributors to their team for much longer than even they originally believed possible.
For Fitzgerald, he moved into the slot position, and became more of a red-zone target rather than an every-down target.
For Boldin, he just had to accept the criticism and advice of his coaching staff wherever he was traded to. It was the only way he was able to put up impressive numbers so late into his career. Boldin was a productive weapon for the Cardinals, Ravens, and Lions. When his speed ultimately left him, he was still able to play within his strengths to benefit his team. In fact, a case could be made that Dallas would have had a more productive passing attack with Boldin instead of Bryant in 2017.
What Does This Mean For Bryant?
Bryant is undeniably in a precarious situation with the Cowboys right now. He has two routes he can take moving forward. He can continue to try and be the same #88 he has been throughout his tenure with the Cowboys (ultimately risking getting cut or traded to a receiver-needy team like the Cleveland Browns or Baltimore Ravens). Or, he can understand that his speed may be gone, but his physicality and his experience can’t be taken away from.
He is physically capable of reinventing himself as a physical, jump-ball red zone receiver. But is he emotionally capable of taking a pay cut and a back seat role, ultimately training a successor? The choice is Bryant’s. Does Dez want to continue to chase a Super Bowl and the Hall of Fame with the only team he’s ever known, or does he want to leave the Dallas Cowboys with a bad taste in his mouth?