Dez Bryant on Punt Returns: Cowboys Have to Go Big or Go Home

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 31, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 19:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys runs a 62 yard punt return for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium on September 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

His history in Dallas indicates that Jerry Jones knows it's nearly impossible to win in this league with a conservative approach. In a sport in which the average career spans 3.3 years, it's almost always foolish to sacrifice the short term for the good of the long term. 

That's why the Cowboys are making a brilliant move by reinstalling Dez Bryant as their punt returner and opting to use Felix Jones on kick returns. Both former first-round picks are electric with the rock in their hands, and thus the key for Dallas has to be ensuring that they have as many opportunities as possible to possess the football.

The Cowboys benefit from having a deep group of offensive playmakers. With Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten already playing major roles on offense, it means that guys like Bryant and Jones won't get as many touches in Dallas as they would in cities with fewer stars.

Thus, special-teams contributions won't necessarily make either man more susceptible to injury than any other top-end offensive player, at least statistically. 

Beyond the odds, though, both players have struggled with bumps and bruises in their short careers. Just last year, Jones implied that he wasn't sure using Bryant on punt returns was a good idea because he was getting hurt often in said situations:

"I'm just saying he's getting hurt on returns," Jones said, via "He got knocked out last year and got limited in this game on a punt return."

The Cowboys are undoubtedly taking a risk here, but these are the kinds of risks teams have to take in order to gain that much-needed edge. Sure, Dallas can't accomplish big things without Bryant on the field, but it'd be even more frustrating to fall just short (again) and wonder if Bryant's return prowess might have tipped the scales. Felix Jones is a similar case, with less extreme consequences. 

If either player gets hurt on a return this year, I won't change my tune. Any player can get hurt on any play, especially those who are in possession of the football.

If an injury happens, it'll be easy to point a finger at Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett and criticize the team for exposing key players on special teams. But in reality, it'll just mean that lady luck simply didn't see eye-to-eye with what might very well be a necessary gamble.