Dez Bryant has been vocal his whole career, and now he’s not afraid to let it be known that he wants a lucrative, long-term deal with the Cowboys. However, holdouts during the offseason are hardly a rare occurrence, and players publicly stating their dissatisfaction with their contract situation are just a common side show. But the All-Pro wide receiver has already gone so far to claim that he will sit out once the regular season starts if there is no agreement on a new deal. The tactic is not exactly new, but if he ends up following through on said threat, it would put him in rare company.
The Cowboys desperately need their star wideout, which is one reason why they applied the franchise tag to him earlier this offseason. The tag would pay Bryant a hefty $12.823 million for the 2015 season, an extremely respectable sum. Obviously he wants more, something more in the range of Calvin Johnson’s $130-plus million over eight years, a deal he signed in 2012. If Bryant signs his franchise tag tender, he would be the second-highest paid wide receiver this year, but it's pretty clear he has no intent of playing on a one-year deal.
After losing the NFL’s top rusher in DeMarco Murray, Dallas' best offensive weapon is clearly Bryant. Darren McFadden is the new running back, while Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley would become more featured receivers. Tight end Jason Witten will still continue to be a strong player as always, but Bryant is far and away the team's leading returning scorer with the 16 touchdown passes he caught from Tony Romo last season. Romo is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in his own right and has one of the league's best offensive lines to protect him, but without Bryant, who would Romo throw the ball to?
History of holdouts
Contract holdouts are nothing new to professional sports. They happen with individuals, and the situation also has impacted entire leagues. Specifically for the Cowboys, there seems to be a positive history revolving around them in this area. In 1993, Emmitt Smith demanded a better contract during the offseason and ended up sitting out a couple games. He soon became the league’s highest paid running back and carried Dallas to a Super Bowl victory. The Cowboys of the present would hope that a holdout by Bryant of any length during the regular season doesn’t occur, but they’ll surely take a Super Bowl appearance if it does.
In 1997, the Redskins tagged defensive tackle Sean Gilbert after the two sides could not reach a long-term deal, so he sat out the entire season in protest. The next season, the Redskins tried to tag him again, and he refused. Washington eventually traded him to Carolina, which signed him to a new, lucrative contract.
Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson held out twice during his career over contract disputes, missing two games in 1985, then five games in '90. Dickerson had ongoing issues regarding his initial contract dispute in '85, a situation that wasn't fully resolved until he was traded to Indianapolis in 1987. He and the Colts later went through the same thing, which only added on to the unwarranted attention and unnecessary publicity Dickerson received during the middle of his remarkable career.
Bluff or not?
The question remains though, is this a bluff by Bryant or is he being vehemently truthful? The Cowboys have stated a desire to lock him up long term, but they hardly seem fazed by his alleged plan.
If anything, this holdout can lead to toxic feelings within the organization. The players, coaches and management want their star to be participating in full. The franchise tag would make him the second-highest player on the team behind Romo ($18 million). Last year, the Cowboys won the division by two games, but now the Eagles have DeMarco Murray in their backfield and look poised to challenge for the NFC East crown. One player does not dictate an entire season, but there's no question how important Bryant is to the Cowboys’ success.
However, it seems highly unlikely that Bryant will sit out any games, and that’s because either side will eventually cave in. As usual, Dallas doesn't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the salary cap, especially after signing offensive lineman Tyron Smith to the largest contract for the position in the NFL. Last year, the Cowboys offered Bryant $114 million over 10 years, which is lengthy, but less per year than he wanted.
Dallas has until July 15 to sign Bryant to a long-term contract, and if not, he can either sign the one-year franchise tender or sit out the season. After July 15, the Cowboys cannot negotiate a new contract with Bryant until after the season, a situation that doesn't seem favorable for either party. Thus, the Cowboys do have power in the short term, but if no deal is made, Bryant's future with the team would certainly not be as secure. Also, if no deal is made soon, the Cowboys would have to give him one next year, let him go, or pay him around $15 million the next year after applying the franchise tag a second time. Bryant does not become an unrestricted free agent until 2018, so unless the two sides come to agreement on a new contract within the next three weeks, we will be revisiting this very same situation less than a year from now.
There is little time between now and July 15, but Cowboys fans should not worry too much. It is really doubtful that Bryant would sit out any games. Either he’ll get a long-term deal, or he’ll make a high one-year salary with great prospects for something big next year. There might be some frustration and resentment initially, but nothing major should really come about this whole situation. Jerry Jones will know how to deal with this situation, so these last few weeks before the deadline should be interesting.