It has been a month since former Dallas Cowboy, Dez Bryant, was released. Bryant is a three-time pro bowler and was named first-team All-Pro when he led the league in receiving touchdowns in 2014. Also, he is only 29 years-old and coming off a 69 reception, 838 yard, and 6 touchdown season. Yet only one team has offered him a deal, the Ravens, and teams allegedly won’t even sign him for the veteran’s minimum. All of this begs the question: is there a need for Dez?
Evolution of the Position
The big jump ball-needy receiver is becoming a dying breed, and that is exactly what Dez is. He thrives off receiving a heavy amount of targets as evidence by the 133 he had last year. The big receivers who are still top tier are all physical specimens. Julio Jones runs a sub 4.4 40 yd dash, Mike Evans is the two-time league leader in targets, and AJ Green is big but plays like a possession receiver. Which transitions perfectly to the shift in dominance at the position. Possession receivers are the most valuable receivers in today’s NFL. Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr, and DeAndre Hopkins to name a few, impact the game in a way that the towering receivers as a whole, cannot. Over the last three season Dez Bryant has had 2,000+ receiving yards while Antonio Brown has had over 5,000. Thats an enormous difference.
These smaller, possession receivers run crisp routes, can go over the middle and make plays, and are also red zone threats without the need for a perfectly placed jump ball. Brown and Beckham are viewed as the top 2 or top 3 receivers in the NFL, showcasing the evolution of the position. This does not bode well for Dez. He does the same things that an athletic tight end can do in regards to jump balls and red zone success, except he needs to be paid more, needs the ball more, and can not block as well. So why not use a roster spot and salary cap space on a versatile tight end?
Dez the Distraction
Dez Bryant has had his fair share of on and off-field controversies. A list of his off-field incidents can be found here, but lets focus on his issues on the field. He has had a litany of outbursts on the sidelines at both his coaches and teammates, typically when he does not get the ball. He has been involved in fights at practice, and has left the field before a playoff game even ended. Long story short, he can be considered a diva. It may be an unfair accusation of him, but its how he is portrayed. It does not make sense for a team that is contending for a Super Bowl to take a flier on a player who has a history of being a cancer in the locker room. Camaraderie and chemistry go a long way in football. Just ask the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Optimism for Dez
One thing that Dez has going for him is that a player with a similar skill set coming into the league has been able to successfully transition into a big slot receiver. That player is future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. He has had over 105 receptions and 1,000 yds in each of the past three seasons out of the slot, and needs 92 catches in 2018-19 to pass Tony Gonzalez for 2nd in all-time receptions. The one caveat with this optimistic outlook is that Fitzgerald was consistently dominant every year of his career. Dez only had a couple years of dominance. Dez has the build to run quick routes over the middle and shield off smaller nickel corners, its just a matter of coming to terms with the kind of player he is today as opposed to three or five years ago.
Also, there will be a team that signs Dez Bryant. He will not be a free agent for a whole lot longer. An organization will believe they have enough leadership in their locker room to contain his antics, and can properly utilize his talent on the field. If they can do both of those things, they will be getting one heck of a football player for quite the bargain.
Prediction: Dez signs with the Seattle Seahawks and is Russell Wilson’s go-to red zone target