Cowboys Under Microscope After Botched Dez Bryant Departure

Last Friday, after months of speculation, the Dallas Cowboys released three time pro-bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant following a long awaited sit down discussion with owner/president/GM Jerry Jones.

The motivation for the decision was apparently money, as Bryant was due to count $16.5 million against the cap in 2018, and by releasing him now Dallas will save $8 million in the upcoming campaign. The decision to cut Bryant was going to be controversial and met with criticism regardless, but the way the situation was handled was nothing short of debacle. If the Cowboys were hellbent on releasing the eight year veteran they would have been better served doing it over a month ago when the new league year began to give themselves the opportunity reinvest the money on a premium free-agent. Putting that aside for a minute, after all he’d done for the organization Bryant himself deserved the opportunity to market himself from the get-go in March, as many wide receiver needy teams who addressed their holes then would have  unquestionably been interested in number eighty eight.

So what was the hold up?

Well it doesn’t take a PhD to read between the lines and realize the unbelievable game of tug of war that must have been ongoing in the Dallas front office. It was obvious from the statement Jerry Jones gave Friday that he was not the driving force behind the decision, a sentiment Bryant seemed to elaborate on in an interview with Jane Slater later.

“Jerry Jones, he loved me to death. I know this is a hard decision for him. But 5, 6 guys at a table against one guy, I get it. He didn’t ask me to take a pay cut. He didn’t want that.”

That last part of that quote is notable because Bryant later expressed he would have taken a salary reduction to remain in Dallas. So if that is true, and Dez was willing to take a pay cut that would have saved the Cowboys the same amount of money, his release was about more then cap room. So who were the five or six guys Bryant alluded to that pressured his boss to release him?

It’s clear one had to be Jerry’s son Stephen, the Cowboys’ executive vice president and COO. In recent years Stephen has taken on more of the day to day operations in Dallas, he’s a huge voice in the Cowboys’ personnel department and along with Will McClay he runs the team’s draft. (Remember when he had to talk his father into selecting Zack Martin instead of Johnny Manziel?)

McClay was likely another voice in the room, as the longtime Cowboys front office employee is one of the most respected personnel men in the game, and teams are constantly trying to pluck him away from Big D to run their organizations as general manager. It had appeared in January the Texans were set to hire him, but the Jones family essentially paid him GM money to stay where he was. That alone shows the amount of respect McClay has within the Cowboys front office, and his opinion undoubtedly carries some weight.

Perhaps most notably, however, is the way it appears the coaching staff pushed for this divorce. Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan clearly were annoyed when Bryant publicly expressed frustration over the team’s offensive play-calling lacking creativity, especially on Thanksgiving when he proclaimed the Chargers knew what was coming pre-snap.

The thing is, he’s not really wrong. The Cowboys offense completely stalled when running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended last year, and there were several points where it was evident opposing defenses were not fooled.

Another interesting nugget to digest here was when Bryant eluded to some teammates who may have been in favor of his release. To me this is the most noteworthy part of the story, as while countless teammates and former teammates immediately came to his defense, in the same interview with Slater Bryant said:

“I believe Garrett’s guys worked against me. I won’t put names out there. I’m not throwing anyone under the bus. I’m not going to do that.”

So who are “Garrett’s guys”? An obvious suspect would be quarterback Dak Prescott, who it was obvious never had the same rapport with Bryant that his predecessor Tony Romo enjoyed. But speaking publicly on the issue for the first time last night, Prescott was adamant he was not involved and that Bryant is like a brother to him.

Amazon Prime must be licking their chops as Dallas is due to appear on the network’s 3rd season of “All or nothing” premiering April 27th. Ratings should go through the roof as viewers attempt to pick out the “Garrett guys” that wanted Dez gone.

Despite the PR nightmare they’ve already created, believe it or not the Cowboys can dig their way out of this, but they’ll have to hit a home run on draft day a week and a half from right now. At pick number 19 in the first round Dallas simply has to find their next number one receiver for years to come, and not miss with the pick. Receivers like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Maryland’s D.J. Moore, and SMU’s Courtland Sutton are all potential choices. That would address the void Bryant left on offense, but the other half of this is the money. The Cowboys have to reinvest the money they were able to save by cutting Bryant and they have to bring in an impact player.

There is only one name Dallas could deliver that fans would get excited enough about to forgive the team over this mess, and that is veteran safety Earl Thomas. The long time Seahawk clearly wants to take his talents to Fort Worth, and while Seattle was originally asking the Cowboys for their first round pick in trade discussions, that was never going to happen. If Dallas can trade their second round selection (number 50 overall) to bring in Thomas, and then use the money they saved against the cap to sign him to a long-term extension, at least for now they’d be off the hook.

When the team takes the field next fall, however, if Prescott and the offense struggle, and whichever rookie receiver the team picks is a bust, expect the fans to turn on the coaching staff, particularly Garrett and Linehan who both clearly have targets on their backs in the court of fan opinion.

Only time will tell how this whole thing will play itself out, especially with Bryant expressing a desire to remain in the division to play Dallas twice. At the time of publication there has been very little traction to those talks as the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins all appear set at receiver. But regardless of where Bryant lands, Dallas will have egg on their face if he turns in a pro-bowl season. It’s always a circus with Jerry and the Cowboys but these past few days have taken it to a different level, and the entire NFL is dying to see how this works out.