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Cowboys Smart to Take Their Time with Bryant Deal, but There's No Right Answer

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant wears a reflective shield beneath his mask during an NFL football organized team activity, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 30, 2014

Nobody will dispute the notion that, relative to the market, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is worth a hell of a lot more than the $1.78 million salary he's due in 2014. After all, Bryant has had more than 90 catches, 1,200 yards and 12-plus touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, and he only appears to be getting better at the age of 25. 

"Yeah, I deserve it," Bryant told ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon this week when asked if he has earned an opportunity to sign an extension before the season gets underway. "I deserve it. I feel like I do. I put the work in."

Again, no arguments there.

Where Dez Bryant ranks since the start of 2012
Yards after catch9953rd
Pro Football Reference

But what a player deserves and where his circumstances place him are two different things. And so with the franchise tag in their back pocket and lingering concerns about Bryant's maturity still in play, the Cowboys wouldn't be crazy to make Bryant play out the final year of his rookie deal. 

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday, per NFL.com's Kevin Patra, that "preliminary talks" had taken place between the team and Bryant's agent, Eugene Parker. But Rapoport added that the Cowboys might in fact want to hit the pause button:

A team source told Rapoport the Cowboys are not against extending Bryant before the deal expires. He came to Dallas with off-the-field questions, and the view within the team is that he is improving and maturing but is not yet a finished product. Per Rapoport, the Cowboys are encouraged, but would like more time to see Bryant continue on this path.

This is undoubtedly a business decision. The Cowboys have been burned before by big-time receivers (see: Roy Williams and Miles Austin). And while Bryant has done a decent job staying out of trouble during his four years in Dallas, the reality is that a cap-strapped team like the Cowboys has to be careful.

Jerry Jones gave big bucks to Sean Lee a year ago, and look what happened. You can't blame them if they're a little gun-shy here, especially with Tony Romo due to have the highest cap number in the league in 2015. 

But the risk is that if Bryant really explodes this season, he'll be worth more. And while he spoke to MacMahon about his loyalty to the franchise and the possibility of a hometown discount, those good graces could fly out the window if Jones and Co. force him to wait despite all of the contributions he's been making on the field. 

That's the tricky part about running an NFL franchise: You have to make very difficult long-term, million-dollar decisions that can often go either way. Still, at this point, the advantage the Cowboys have with a year to spare and the franchise tag at their disposal leads me to believe that forcing Bryant to be patient could be the smartest route. 

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