Time for Dez Bryant's talent to be worth the trouble

Cold as it sounds, the Dallas Cowboys care about Dez Bryant’s personal issues purely because of his potential.

There are millions of young men who could benefit from the guidance and support the Cowboys give Bryant, not to mention the $11.8 million contract. Jerry Jones opted to invest all this time, resources and money in Bryant because No. 88 has the talent to become the best receiver in the history of a franchise that has two wideouts in the Hall of Fame and a third in the Ring of Honor.

If Bryant wants the Cowboys to remain committed to him, he better come through with the kind of season that merits comparisons to Michael Irvin, Bob Hayes and Drew Pearson (or Terrell Owens, for that matter).

It’s time. With rare exceptions, elite receivers have emerged by the end of their third season.

If Bryant isn’t a Pro Bowler this season, it will be difficult to continue believing he’ll become the superstar the Cowboys envisioned when they decided the reward was worth the risks.

He’s been productive. His numbers last season (63 catches for 928 yards and nine touchdowns) were nearly identical to the stats put up by Packers receiver Greg Jennings. It was, by any reasonable measure, a pretty good year.

But the Cowboys weren’t counting on pretty good when they decided to bring Bryant and his baggage aboard. They thought they got a gamebreaker.

There have been flashes of brilliance from Bryant, but he’s been far from a dominant force. He’s had one 100-yard game in his career. By comparison, Calvin Johnson -- the only receiver in the league who is clearly more physically gifted than Bryant -- averaged more than 100 yards per game last season.

There aren’t any legitimate football-related excuses for Bryant to fail to have a monster season. This will be his third season in the same system. He plays in offense that features a top-10 quarterback and has enough established weapons that opposing defenses can’t just scheme to stop him. And he spent the offseason training under a six-time Super Bowl champion strength coach.

However, the off-the-field obstacles for Bryant are as imposing as they’ve been during his professional career. The spotlight has intensified on Bryant’s dysfunctional family situation after his Monday arrest on a misdemeanor charge for allegedly assaulting his mother.

How will an emotionally fragile, immature 23-year-old handle scrutiny that will be harsher than ever? Can Bryant deal with the largely self-inflicted distractions?

We’ll find out soon. And, if the Cowboys aren’t satisfied with the answers, they might find a way to make Bryant expendable.

It’s time for the talent to be worth the trouble.