Something inside Cowboys owner Jerry Jones must twitch at the thought of releasing a franchise cornerstone player in a timely manner. Once again, it’s April and we’re here talking about a player—this time, Dez Bryant – who was instrumental to the team during their most recent series of playoff pushes but who now looks for a new home with much of the other teams’ salary cap money allocated.
In terms of April surprises, this barely registered on the scale. Bryant, for a large portion of his final season in Dallas, seemed like a player either in decline or disinterest, and either one of those is enough to undercut a significant cap hit. Dallas will wisely build around receivers who fit better with Dak Prescott’s skill set. As we noted in last week’s draft column, they have been immersed in this year’s ho-hum wide receiver class, with access to some of the top talent in 2018. They will almost certainly spend a first or second-round pick there, even if drafting for need isn’t so popular anymore.
As for Bryant, he has some options and seems to be leaning in a certain direction. Here’s where he might end up when the dust settles…
1. The NFC East
Bryant needs some work to make this happen. Depending on how serious he is about his parting threat—a DallasCowboys.com columnist reported that he said “I’ll see you guys twice this year” on his way out of the building—it all comes down to what teams have left to spend and how much of a haircut Bryant would take for a yearly trip to JerryWorld.
According to NFLPA estimates, here is the current amount of cap space for each of the teams in the NFC East:
While cap space isn’t necessarily the best indicator, Washington is really the only team who has the type of flexibility to make this move. The Giants likely are not going to add Bryant to a room with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shephard and Brandon Marshall, unless they view Bryant as an upgrade over Marshall at a reduced rate. The Eagles are not going to sign a receiver who would likely flounder in their trips-heavy offense given the look of his routes in 2018. Would Washington, considering they want to develop Josh Doctson and continue to feed Jamison Crowder? Paul Richardson signed in free agency to round out their base set starting lineup. He’s cheaper and more flexible than Bryant, with a higher upside at 26. Jay Gruden might like the idea of another big bodied pass catcher who can create mismatches near the end zone.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore has $10,136,846 in cap room and could actually present the most formidable wide receiver grouping on paper during the Joe Flacco era with Bryant and Michael Crabtree, which says a lot about Flacco’s weapon set over the years. Ozzie Newsome was lukewarm on Breshad Perriman at the combine and could use the signing of Bryant to light a fire under the first round pick. If this seems like a desperation move by a team on the edge, well, what do you know, the Ravens fit the bill. Staring down a 2019 with a potentially new quarterback and offensive philosophy, they may use Bryant to help them squeeze the remaining toothpaste out of 2018.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Like the Ravens, the Bengals know they need to make something happen with this current version of the roster and coaching staff, or else management may actually consider making substantive changes (come to think of it…). A.J. Green cannot operate this offense alone and John Ross faces an uphill climb after an injury-riddled 2017. Bryant would fit Cincinnati’s habit of shopping in the free agent bargain bin and would give Andy Dalton an instant upgrade inside the 20-yard line.
4. Seattle Seahawks
They’re tight against the cap, but Bryant could replace a similar dynamic Seattle lost with Jimmy Graham. Bryant has experience playing with two improvisational quarterbacks who can create a secondary play on the move, and may fit in well with Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin.
5. Oakland Raiders
*Jon Gruden voice* “This is Dez Bryant we’re talking about man. He gets north and south, brother. He’s a legend out there. We’re looking for football players and Dez Bryant is a football player.”
In reality, Oakland’s No. 1 wideout is a 32-year-old Jordy Nelson. Amari Cooper needs a coordinator with a vision to free him up, and Bryant is the type of chess move that can make it happen. There’s no one Oakland will find in this year’s draft who will have a similar impact right away and the Raiders need to quickly legitimize this Gruden hire before moving to Las Vegas.
6. New York Jets
The Jets still have almost $20 million in cap space and will almost certainly be breaking in a new rookie quarterback this year. Bryant gives them a short-term rental in the type of market that could appeal to him. Mike Maccagnan hasn’t been shy about throwing money at aging veterans and already has 17 receivers on the current roster. Signing Bryant could eliminate some of that throw-some-stuff-at-the-wall uncertainty.
7. Chicago Bears
The Bears still have $24 million in cap space and are looking for pieces to cobble together an offense for Mitchell Trubisky. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Kevin White, assuming he can shed some ridiculously horrible luck on the injury front, could be a formidable lineup. Bryant adds a different dimension.
8. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are sorting through some notable issues at both receiver and offensive line as they head into the draft. There is enough cap space for a short-term Bryant stint, which could take some pressure off A.J. McCarron and a prospective rookie challenger. An engaged Bryant at least gives McCarron someone who can draw pass interference penalties, win some battles against lesser corners and create a short-yardage passing game inside the 10-yard line along with Kelvin Benjamin that would force the defense to make some interesting personnel decisions.