FRISCO, Texas -- When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, nothing is simple.
One must read between the lines when deciphering just what the Cowboys might do.
Without question, Dez Bryant's future is the biggest question facing the Cowboys in 2018. Yes, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is set to be a free agent, but the Cowboys know he will be in their lineup one way or another because of the franchise tag. Yes, they would like to sign Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin to an extension, but they know they have him under contract for 2018 thanks to the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Yes, defensive lineman David Irving is set to be a restricted free agent, but the Cowboys will likely put a second-round tag on him and either match a deal if one comes from another team or accept a second-round pick in return.
With Bryant, nothing is certain.
On Monday, executive vice president Stephen Jones went on the team’s “Hangin’ with the Boys” podcast and seemed to set up the Cowboys’ offseason position with Bryant. Since signing his five-year, $70 million deal after the 2014 season, he has not been the same receiver. This past season he played in every game and caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns.
“We pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s aware of it as anybody when he talks to Jerry and myself,” Stephen Jones said. “He knows when you get paid that kind of money, there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity. Those are all things that we have to look at as a team, as an organization, when we start to put our team together for next year.”
Bryant is set to make $12.5 million in 2018. He has a $16.5 million cap figure. The Cowboys can release him and save $8 million. They can designate him a post-June 1 cut and save $12 million and he will count $4 million against the 2019 cap.
The Cowboys could ask Bryant to take a pay cut, but the last time they faced a dicey contractual situation with one of their all-time greats, DeMarcus Ware, they did not make him an offer because they did not want to hurt him with a lowball contract. They eventually cut Ware and he signed with the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl in his second season there.
Also on the podcast, Stephen Jones said that Bryant’s sideline outbursts are a distraction. Over the years, Jason Garrett has defended Bryant’s actions as a sign of passion. On Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Stephen Jones was asked to clarify what he meant.
"Well, Dez is an emotional guy. He plays with emotion. That's part of his game," Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “We work with him constantly on trying to really channel his energy in positive ways. I just think when he has those types of emotional roller coasters, I think at the end of the day he needs to understand that it does affect more than just Dez. He loves his teammates. He obviously has made so many great plays for us over the years but when you start to look at the things that we need to be better at, that's one of them. I think he needs to understand that it's not something that's just affecting him, it does affect his teammates.”
On Tuesday from the Senior Bowl, Jerry Jones played something of the good cop when he was asked if Bryant was still a Dak Prescott-friendly receiver as the Cowboys look to direct their offense around their third-year quarterback’s talents.
"Well again, I’ve said this and I’m so proud of Dez and proud of where he is today, with us,” Jerry Jones said. “I believe Dez to have a lot of gas in the tank. I think we need to improve across the board with our receivers, and I think we will. In doing so, it should be an opportunity for Dez.”
Does he expect Bryant to be on the team?
“Well, everyone we’ve got under contract right now -- and I’m not addressing anyone -- but everyone we’ve got under contract and have years left on their contract, I expect to be with the team,” Jerry Jones said.
And this is where you can read between the lines. If Bryant was a dead-set lock to be on the roster in 2018, Jerry Jones could have just said yes. He was direct in some of his answers about the coaching staff. Here he left the door open with the “expect to.”
Nothing that has been said this week is new to Bryant. He addressed his situation late in the regular season. He knows the NFL business. And he said he would not take a pay cut if asked. He has not been asked yet.
Like Ware, he might not be asked either.
The door for Bryant’s departure seems to be open.