The Legacy of Dez Bryant

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Writer: Jameson White

After months of speculation, it was indeed a frightening Friday the 13th for some Dallas Cowboys fans. Dez Bryant, the all-time leader in touchdown receptions for the Cowboys, was released after a meeting with team owner Jerry Jones. There have been rumors of the team asking Bryant to take a pay-cut, and possibly outright releasing him, since the end of a disappointing 2017-2018 season. It was the third-straight season in which Bryant had failed to reach 1000 yards receiving, with some of that being due to injuries, while it is partly due to the receiver’s inability to consistently catch what young franchise-quarterback Dak Prescott throws him. With a cap hit north of $16 million this season, the Dallas Cowboys decided that with the horrendous mix of lack of production, a large salary, and emotional outbursts his services were no longer needed. However, his legacy with America’s team will never be able to be tarnished.

Dez Bryant grew up in Lufkin, Texas as a kid who did not have a father in his household, as well as a mother who was in and out of jail. Despite his circumstances, he earned a scholarship to Oklahoma State University. After not playing in a lot of games at the college level (28 in three seasons), and a reputation as an overly-vocal and emotional player, Dez Bryant came into the NFL in 2010 as one of the top receivers in that Draft. He was an athletic freak of nature who could dominate opposing defensive backs with his physically-imposing stature, along with an uncanny ability to win 50-50 balls. Those same traits carried over into the professional game of football, as he quickly rose up the Cowboys’ depth-chart, and in 2011, won the full-time starting receiver position across from Miles Austin. He was able to get more in-game experience, he found a niche in Dallas’ offense that made him into their number one receiving option. Between 2012 and 2014, Dez Bryant became one of the most feared offensive players in the league, as he amassed nearly 4,000 yards receiving, along with over 40 touchdown receptions. He gave then-franchise quarterback, Tony Romo, an option to count on when the team needed him most. It was this special chemistry between Romo and Bryant, along with a record-breaking season from running back Demarco Murray, that helped the two stars have the best statistical season of their respective careers and get back into the playoffs in 2014.

Credit to MyAJC.com

In the divisional round of the 2014 NFL playoffs was a match-up between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. The game was played at a frozen Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The game featured multiple lead changes, with under 5 minutes left in the game, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves down 26-21. The Cowboys started to march down the field, however, they faced a 4th-and-2 from the Green Bay 32-yard line. With the game on the line, Tony Romo dropped back to pass, heaving a throw to Dez Bryant, who hauled it in inside the 5-yard line, taking two steps before attempting to reach out over the goal line. When Bryant fell to the ground, the ball had been displaced from his body enough to signal a replay. When the play was taken to the booth, the result became one of the most controversial play calls in NFL history; the pass was ruled incomplete and the Green Bay Packers were able to run out the game-clock. With their best all-around team since the mid-1990’s, the Dallas Cowboys were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

The off-season following the 2014 Divisional Round playoff loss included a stand-off between Dez Bryant and Jerry Jones, as the receiver was seeking a mega-extension to his rookie deal. Just before the July 15th deadline for long-term deals, Bryant and Jones agreed on a 5-year, $72 million deal that made the receiver one of the highest paid players at his position in the NFL. This deal came after a career (and NFL) high 16 touchdown receptions in 2014. Coming into the 2015 season, big things were expected of the Cowboys. Even though they lost Demarco Murray in free agency, they were gaining All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee back from an ACL tear the season before. And then, Dez Bryant went down with a knee injury in week 1 that held him out for five weeks, and Tony Romo broke his collarbone in week 2. One of the most memorable moments of the season was during the Thanksgiving Day game against the Panthers, the vocal Bryant became chippy with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman that caused altercations between the two players throughout. Very quickly, Dallas’ record begin to slip and they finished the season 4-12. The lost season set them up for the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Dallas eventually selected game-changing running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick, as well as quality starters Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, Anthony Brown, and Kavon Frazier to complete their draft. With a surplus of young talent, the core of Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, combined with a dominant offensive line, the Cowboys were destined to get back into the playoffs. Instead, Tony Romo suffered a back-injury in the first quarter of the first preseason game, forcing fourth-round pick Dak Prescott into action earlier than most expected. This move proved to be the end of Romo’s career as Dallas’ franchise quarterback and the beginning of Prescott’s. After missing three games with injury, Dez Bryant was hobbled throughout the season, therefore his numbers were not great. He would make that “wow” play or have a spectacular game every once in a while, including a game against the Lions in which he caught two touchdowns and threw for a score, or in the divisional round of the playoffs in which he had 132 yards receiving and 2 touchdown receptions. These potent games were not on a consistent basis that they were two seasons before.

In the 2017 offseason, most people hoped that Dallas would make a priority of getting Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant to work on the chemistry that helped the receiver thrive with Romo. During this season, Ezekiel Elliott faced a six-game suspension and Tyron Smith, the Cowboys’ All-Pro left tackle, missed four games due to injury, putting pressure on Bryant become the offense’s focal point. Even though Bryant was able to play in all 16 games, he had only six touchdown catches, along with just over 800 yards receiving, while posting a career-low in yards-per-catch, and a career-high in dropped passes. He was still a high-intensity leader for the Cowboys but, the connection between he and Prescott never came to fruition.

Credit to The Source

As the 2017 season came to an end with the Cowboys missing the playoffs, many people began questioning the future of Bryant and the team. His salary was too large for a player who did not have the production to back it up. People would ask Dez if he would be willing to take a pay cut, and to that the receiver said “No.” After Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett avoided talking about Bryant and his future with the team during the offseason, a meeting between Jerry Jones and Bryant was set for April 13th. The meeting was short and to the point, and Dallas released the former All-Pro receiver. It was reported that multiple coaches throughout the organization wanted Bryant off the team because of his propensity to yell back at the coaches whenever something would go wrong. Dez Bryant followed his release with a plethora of tweets, saying “forever Dallas in my heart,” as well as “If I didn’t have my edge I got it now.” He also reportedly wants to stay in the Cowboys’ division so that he can play his former team twice per year. The next team he will play for is still in question but, his determination to prove Dallas wrong is clearly present.

Credit to Dawg Pound Daily

Dez Bryant is a fiery personality. He would talk-back, he wasn’t a great route-runner, he would occasionally drop passes, and he would make questionable in-game decisions that would cause a penalty flag to be thrown. However, there is no denying, in the first few seasons of his career, he was one of the most dynamic and feared red-zone threats in NFL history. He had a knack for out-muscling opponents, coming down with jump-balls, and making special, jaw-dropping plays. Without Tony Romo, Dez Bryant did not have those same types of plays on a consistent basis anymore; and without those plays he became an overly-emotional, above-average receiver who had a greatest-in-the-game type of contract. The Cowboys are trying to get rid of the salary cap issues that have plagued them before, as well as make the offense more Dak-friendly, meaning Bryant had a perfect storm of factors against him that led to his release.

For a guy who grew up practically parent-less, he was never supposed to be a star for America’s team. He “did not play enough” in college to earn a team’s use of the first-round draft selection on him. For more than half of a decade, he was the soul of the Dallas Cowboys. He “threw up the X” a franchise record 73 times. He was beloved by teammates and, towards the end, despised by coaches. One cannot tell where Dez will land or if he will be successful with that team, but that is what made the receiver so special in Dallas; his unpredictability led to him being the greatest receiver and one of the most polarizing players in Cowboys history.

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