Football, not finances, drives Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant’s massive payday is coming. It’s a matter of when and how much.

Bryant has a couple of years left on his rookie contract, which is worth $11.8 million over five seasons. He could make more than that per year if Bryant builds on his second-half success from last season, as he’s widely expected to do.

There’s no doubt that Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones sees Bryant as a foundation piece, much like linebacker Sean Lee, who signed a rich extension last week before beginning the final year of his rookie deal. There is no chance of Jones letting Bryant wear anything but a star on his helmet for the foreseeable future.

What might that cost? If Bryant proves he ranks among the NFL’s elite receivers, could he join Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald in the Nine-Figure Contract Club?

“I’m going to shoot you straight, it crosses my mind here and there, but football is going to forever remain No. 1,” Bryant said during a Tuesday night appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “I really do love playing this game. (Money) is not my focus.

“Just to see Sean get his contract, I was really excited. Hopefully, one of those days that’ll be me. I feel like I’ve just got to continue to keep working, keep having that same passion and love for the game and that all will come. If I keep doing what I’m doing, it’ll eventually come.”

That’s the best possible approach for Bryant. He’ll just focus on handling his business on the football field and let agent Eugene Parker and Jones deal with the financial business until it’s appropriate for him to become involved on that end.

Bryant, whose Twitter bio begins with “Cowboy 4 Life,” anticipates following in the footsteps of Ring of Honor receivers Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin by wearing No. 88 in Dallas for his entire career. The Cowboys were the team Bryant dreamed of playing for while growing up in Lufkin, Texas, and he feels a responsibility to repay his bosses for the time and resources invested to help accelerate his maturation process the past few years and put him in position to fulfill his immense potential.

“I thank the Cowboys, I thank Mr. Jones just because of the fact that I’m living out my dream right now,” Bryant said. “It’s been a lot of tough love, and I appreciate them for that. They taught me a lot of things from a different point of view on certain things and how to handle things differently, and it made me a better person. I feel like each and every day I continue to get better and better and better, on the field and off.”

It wasn’t long ago that Bryant was one of the most heavily criticized players in the NFL, perceived as a problem child whose talent was in jeopardy of going to waste. He’s widely praised now, which tends to happen with players who follow up a prolonged stretch of elite productivity (50 catches for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns in the last eight games) with an offseason and training camp filled with signs of further growth.

Of course, Bryant recognizes he’s always one or two wrong steps from being ripped again.

“You’ve got to continue to keep doing what you’re doing, what got you there,” Bryant said. “As soon as you start paying attention to all the hype and all that stuff, that’s when you fall off.

“I feel like I’m going to continue to keep doing what I do, play football, play this game that I love, continue doing the right things, focus on what I need to focus continuously to remain humble as I am. I’m very thankful to be playing this game. And just keep grinding.”

If Bryant backs up his words, it’s a safe bet that he’ll put up huge numbers this season. And, at some point over the next year or so, Jones will hand him a contract that features another set of big numbers.