IRVING, Texas -- Dez Bryant's contract situation seems to get more scrutiny by the day.
In case you haven't heard, Bryant is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends. The Dallas Cowboys had talks with Bryant's former agent, Eugene Parker, but never really came close to a deal. The Cowboys have said hello to Bryant's new agents, Roc Nation, as well as CAA's Tom Condon, but the dynamic remains the same in the negotiations.
The Cowboys want to keep Bryant on a long-term deal. Bryant does not want to leave the Cowboys.
While this would seem like an easy marriage, negotiations are never easy and this will likely be Bryant's final time to cash in.
Hanging over the discussions is the franchise tag, which the Cowboys can put on Bryant next year, guaranteeing Bryant will be paid the average cap figure of the top-five wide receivers. Bryant would like to avoid the tag because it puts him on a year-to-year basis, but there is little he can do to fight it other than sit out in 2015. And if he does that, he makes zero.
The Cowboys used the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer for two straight years, paying him nearly $20 million in 2012 and '13, and Spencer played in 15 of a possible 32 games. The Cowboys liked Spencer but they weren't sure they loved him, which is why they went the franchise-tag route and not the multi-year contract route.
The Cowboys love Bryant, but they want to have some protection.
And this is where Bryant seems to be caught in the Cowboys' new way of doing business.
In the past, they were not too concerned with paying Terrell Owens twice, paying Roy Williams after an ill-advised trade with the Detroit Lions, and paying Miles Austin. They have showered deals on their own free agents to-be such as Tony Romo (twice), Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, Marc Colombo, Bradie James and Andre Gurode almost without reservation.
But now the Cowboys are looking for what can be called "team friendly" deals. Sean Lee signed a six-year, $42 million deal that provided the Cowboys some insurance in case he got hurt again. Tyron Smith signed a 10-year, $110 million deal in training camp with a $10 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed. In the strange world that is the NFL, some observers felt Smith left money on the table.
The Cowboys were criticized in some circles for giving kicker Dan Bailey a seven-year contract for $22.5 million. The deal included a $4 million signing bonus and $7.5 million guaranteed. Now the NFL's most accurate kicker in history, Bailey's base salaries max out at $3.4 million, which could be a pittance for the best kicker in the game five years from now.
Even the free-agent deals the Cowboys doled out this offseason offered protection. Henry Melton's four-year, $29 million deal is really a one-year deal with a three-year option the Cowboys have to pick up by the first day of the 2015 league year. Coming off a major knee injury, the Cowboys wanted some protection in the Melton deal.
The last non-team friendly deal the Cowboys gave out was to Romo last year. Some of that had to do with the leverage Romo had because of the position he plays and the language in his old contract. Through a technicality the Cowboys could not place the franchise tag on Romo and needed to get a deal done to create salary-cap room.
The result was a six-year, $108 million extension that included $55 million guaranteed.
The Cowboys have never been afraid to pay a player. They have never lost a player they really wanted to keep either.
The Cowboys won't be afraid to pay Bryant either. He and generations of his family will be set for life when it gets done. If he has to get franchised twice, like Spencer, he will still be set for life.
These talks take time. In the past, it just didn't take quite as much time.