Amari Cooper and Byron Jones were the two big names floated in front of the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Should Cooper, a proven but expensive successful wide receiver, be re-signed? Should the team instead make a move for Jones, a top cornerback-turned-free-agent?
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, of course, had other thoughts. “I’ve thought a lot about it in the shower,” Jones told the Dallas Morning News. It was the possibility of bringing back unsigned, one-time Cowboys great Dez Bryant that came to Jones as he washed up.
Is that a good idea? Is Jones simply looking for excuses to keep his payroll thin? Now that the Cooper/Jones decision is made, let’s explore why Bryant still looms large over Dallas.
The Cowboys’ offseason drama
The Cowboys’ nerve-wracking offseason technically began before the actual season ended. First, the tense negotiations to keep running back Ezekiel Elliott on board put fans on edge. Then, just weeks into the season, criticism of the team’s coaching quickly became overwhelming.
A decade in, head coach Jason Garrett still wasn’t getting the job done. The team lurched toward a disappointing 8-8 finish, with fans and media calling for Jones to finally push out Garrett. Jones dragged his feet for weeks but ultimately sent Garrett packing.
Then, the Dak Prescott negotiations fell apart. Neither side budged for weeks until finally, the organization used its franchise tag to keep Prescott. It’s a potentially bad move, given Prescott may have been held back in 2019 by erratic coaching. Insiders say the dispute was resolved respectfully, over a relatively small contract discrepancy. But the optics are bad nonetheless.
With Amari Cooper in, is Dez Bryant needed?
Jones continues to send signals that the Cowboys are looking for shrewd contracts rather than big spending. So it was something of a surprise that he went with a five-year, $100 million offer to Cooper. Of course, this left no room to hold onto Byron. He went to the Miami Dolphins instead, for a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
Cooper put up four 1,000-yard seasons and four Pro Bowl seasons in his career so far. Prescott’s success may hinge on Cooper’s abilities, which explains why he’s onboard and Byron is out the door. So why is Jones still thinking about Bryant? Is there room for a guy who spent 2019 at home?
As a backup, possibly. With Randall Cobb out, the possibility of putting Bryant into the slot suddenly makes more sense. Blake Jarwin is staying on, and a player with Bryant’s drive could be a great alternate option.
How Jason Witten makes a case against bringing back Bryant
The case against Bryant is that, for many fans and probably even Jones himself, the decision could be more emotional than logical. It reads like a wishlist move, rather than the best choice for the team’s success. The best comparison involves Jason Witten.
Former Cowboys TE Witten wrapped his career after the 2017 season. He took a lucrative offer with Monday Night Football. Unlike fellow Cowboys refugee turned broadcaster Tony Romo, it didn’t go so well. So he made the case to get back with the Cowboys.
Witten didn’t come back in top form. He finished solidly, with 63 catches for 529 yards, and four touchdowns that put him within one of Bryant’s career record. But he lacked the playmaking ability he once had. He eschewed his old locker-room leadership role. He did not provide the value he once did.
Bryant could go down the same path. Or, he could pull a Marshawn Lynch and return as a player still capable of difference-making heroics. At a time when cap space is a pressing issue for the Cowboys, every dollar counts. This could be a situation where Jones needs to avoid letting emotions get the better of him, and let go of Bryant.