Could Dez Bryant really stay away from Cowboys?

Dez Bryant is considering not reporting to the Cowboys for the regular-season opener unless he is signed to a long-term contract. Elsa/Getty Images

IRVING, Texas -- Could Dez Bryant really pull an Emmitt Smith, as ESPN Insider Chris Mortensen reported earlier today, and stay away from the Dallas Cowboys into the regular season?

It was difficult for Bryant to stay away from the voluntary offseason program. He showed up to work out and meet with coaches a few times. He even took part on an extremely limited basis in an organized team activity.

With this story I guess we can call off the bets of Bryant signing his franchise-tag tender worth $12.823 million and showing up at next week’s minicamp. Since Bryant is unsigned, the minicamp is not mandatory.

A lot of things are said during negotiations to hopefully spur on one side or the other. The Cowboys have been in no big rush to do a long-term deal with Bryant. There haven’t been any serious talks between the team and his agents, Tom Condon of CAA and Kim Miale of Roc Nation except for a quick meeting after the NFL scouting combine in February.

It’s not that the Cowboys don’t want Bryant to be a Cowboy lifer. It’s not that Bryant wants to go anywhere else.

There is just a lot of gray when it comes to these talks. The Cowboys want certain conditions on the money they give Bryant and Bryant wants to be compensated with the best receivers in the NFL.

Neither side is wrong in their stance. The Cowboys have used the tools provided to them by the collective bargaining agreement. Bryant has used his right to sit out and withhold his services.

If there is a sliver of good news it’s that Condon repeated the wish of Stephen Jones from last week that he hopes to get a deal done before the July 15 deadline. Perhaps neither side wants to give up any perceived leverage by being the first to call.

Sometimes it can be that trivial.

In 2012 Drew Brees was given the franchise tag by the New Orleans Saints but didn’t sign his deal until right before the same deadline Bryant faces on July 15. Brees’ agent? Condon.

“Dez has great energy, has great passion,” Jason Garrett said earlier this offseason. “It’s infectious.”

Bryant also has great pride. He has proved to be among the game’s best receivers, if not the best. He has done something in franchise history that has never been done: three straight seasons with at least 80 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 or more touchdowns.

If the Cowboys want to use the franchise tag on Bryant in 2016 as well, then he would make roughly $28 million over the next two years. There should be an easy way to figure out a deal both sides want.

Part of that gray area is due to what’s happening in Denver with Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who also was given the franchise tag. He is threatening to sit out, too. Julio Jones and A.J. Green are in the final years of their contracts with the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals.

The teams don’t want to set the market and they don’t want to pay a receiver the $16 million a year the Detroit Lions are giving Calvin Johnson.

A lot of this will come down to whether the Cowboys believe Bryant's Emmitt Smith-like threat. (Smith missed the first two games of the 1993 season in a contract dispute.) I would guess they don’t. Bryant loves the game. Just check out his Instagram and Twitter accounts. He loves his teammates. He loves to practice.

Could he really stay away?

That would be the toughest test Bryant has had in his professional life.