Dez Bryant sets standard for WR contracts with five-year, $70M deal
Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys played hardball about the receiver's future for quite a time, but in the end, Jerry Jones blinked—the formerly franchise-tagged target was just too valuable to the team to risk any holdout. Bryant, who was set to play under a one-year guaranteed figure of $12.8 million, received a five-year, $70 million contract extension with $45 million guaranteed. Demaryius Thomas signed a nearly identical deal to Bryant's with Denver just minutes after, so this is a clear standard for NFL receivers in 2015.
While Bryant and Thomas each got $70 million in total money, Thomas' guarantee was a bit smaller—$43.5 million to Bryant's $45 million. This trend will certainly be reflected in future receiver contracts, like for Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Atlanta's Julio Jones, both of whom have contracts coming to an end. The NFLPA had threatened to take a collusion case forward if it was evident that the Broncos and Cowboys had talked about the deals for their respective receivers and acted in concert, but given these total numbers, the NFLPA doesn't really have a leg to stand on, just as it didn't when the Bengals and the 49ers decided to create the year-to-year rent-a-quarterback contracts for Andy Dalton and Coin Kaepernick.
Reportedly, Bryant was looking for a new contract similar to the one given to Detroit's Calvin Johnson in March 2012: an eight-year, $150.5 million deal with $60 million guaranteed. Bryant's deal is shorter, of course, but he gets more guaranteed money per year than Johnson—$9 million to $7.5 million—which makes sense for both parties.
Now, Bryant is the second-highest paid wide receiver, behind Johnson, and given Bryant's contributions to the Cowboys in recent seasons, he's earned it. The two-time Pro Bowler and 2014 First-Team All-Pro has put up numbers over the last three seasons that rival any receiver in the game today. From 2012 through '14, he's eighth in the NFL in targets (433), but sixth in receptions (273), fifth in receiving yards (3.935), and first in touchdowns (41). Last season, he ranked fifth in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted value metrics among receivers.
There was simply no way to replace Bryant's production from 2014—88 catches on 136 targets for 1,320 yards and a league-leading 16 touchdown receptions—without the team extending itself very seriously in free agency or the draft. The Cowboys had already lost running back DeMarco Murray to the Eagles in free agency, and though the team believes it can assemble a base unit of replacement-level backs behind the best run-blocking line in the NFL, there's no avoiding the fact that Murray was Dallas' third-leading receiver in 2014 behind Bryant and Jason Witten.
In 2014, Cole Beasley, who's mostly a possession receiver, was second among Cowboys receivers with 37 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns. Terrance Williams equaled Beasley with 37 catches, adding 621 yards and eight touchdowns, but he's not proven to be the alpha dog that Bryant is. Bryant can rise up and make impossible catches on a consistent basis despite double coverage. Bryant is also a yards-after-catch machine and perhaps Dallas' most determined player. In the end, his value to the team was too much to risk.
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