How Much Is Dez Bryant Worth?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 7, 2014

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talks to wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) at the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition NFL football game between the Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, in Canton, Ohio. The Cowboys defeated the Dolphins, 24-20. (AP Photo/David Richard)
David Richard/Associated Press

Does Dez Bryant deserve a lucrative contract extension in Dallas?

The answer to that question, without considering circumstances beyond the fact that Bryant has become a perennial 90-catch, 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown receiver who is slated to make only $1.78 million this year, is yes. 

We established that last week, stating that if the Dallas Cowboys don't extend Bryant's contract this summer, he'll be severely underpaid during the final year of his rookie deal.

But we also noted that it's not that simple. The franchise tag is there as a safeguard if/when Bryant becomes eligible for free agency next offseason, and so there isn't a ton of incentive for the Cowboys to jump the gun. Instead, they could save plenty of money in the meantime and take the conservative route, forcing Bryant to play hard for a new deal in 2014 while also proving that he can continue to mature off the field. 

But it would be hard to argue against either strategy, because Bryant's been lights-out on the field and seems to have his life on track now. So if the Cowboys cave and give him an extension this year, the question becomes how lucrative said deal should be. 

Let's examine precedents. 

*All salary figures via Spotrac


Case 1: Brandon Marshall

Year: 2010
Age: 26
Deal: 5 years, $50 million with $24 million guaranteed

This comparison is tough because it's nearly half a decade old, but it's good because when Marshall signed it, he was only a few months older than Bryant is now (we can't use his brand-new deal because he's 30, and it's thus shorter and worth less in guaranteed money).

As with Bryant, there were some character concerns. And like Bryant, Marshall had played four years. Plus, as you can see, the two had similar receiving numbers:

Marshall (2010) vs. Bryant
Previous three seasonsRECYDSYPCTD
Pro Football Reference

Bryant still seems to have the 2010 version of Marshall beat in terms of big-play ability, and he's probably less of a liability off the field. Marshall had worn out his welcome in Denver, so Bryant's probably worth a lot more than what he got back in 2010. 


Case 2: Andre Johnson

Year: 2010
Age: 29
Deal: 7 years, $68 million with $21 million guaranteed

This is a tough comparison because Johnson was several years older than Bryant and the deal was handed out four years ago. Johnson was already in his prime and coming off two ridiculous seasons. 

Johnson (2010) vs. Bryant
Previous two seasonsRECYDSYPCTD
Pro Football Reference

Because Bryant is supposed to be entering his prime, rather than being right in it (as Johnson was), and because top-echelon wide receiver salaries have increased since, it's probably safe to conclude that, despite the discrepancy in the stats, Bryant deserves more than this. 


Case 3: Larry Fitzgerald

Year: 2011
Age: 28
Deal: 7 years, $113 million with $27 million guaranteed

Fitzgerald received this deal when he was two years older than Bryant, and it was three years ago. That's a better gap than with Andre Johnson. And while he had put up stud-like numbers in 2007 and 2008, 2009 and 2010 weren't as productive. 

In fact, Dez has him beat nearly across the board in terms of "what have you done for me lately?"

Fitzgerald (2011) vs. Bryant
Previous two seasonsRECYDSYPCTD
Pro Football Reference

So we're starting to see that Bryant has to be worth close to $30 million guaranteed, if not more. But is he worth $16 million a year? If Fitz was in 2011, that may be the case. 


Case 4: Calvin Johnson

Year: 2012
Age: 27
Deal: 7 years, $113 million with $47 million guaranteed

Here's where Dez might fall out of favor. As you can see, the key question now is how much he might be worth in terms of guaranteed money. Johnson was only about a year older than Bryant is now when he signed this deal, and the contract was handed out only two years ago. 

And amazingly, Bryant sort of has Johnson's number going back several years prior to the deal:

Johnson (2012) vs. Bryant
Previous three seasonsRECYDSYPCTD
Pro Football Reference

But the difference is what Megatron did right before signing:

Johnson (2012) vs. Bryant
Previous seasonRECYDSYPCTD
Pro Football Reference

Throw in that Bryant has probably had more support within his offense and that he might be more of an off-field liability, and it's safe to conclude that Dez won't fetch a Calvin-like contract right now.

Check out an in-depth comparison of Johnson and Bryant right here.


Case 5: Vincent Jackson

Year: 2012
Age: 29
Deal: 5 years, $56 million with $26 million guaranteed

This is a little different because Jackson was an unrestricted free agent, which gives him more options and leverage. There's no doubt Bryant is worth more in annual salary, but that guarantee is quite high. 

Jackson got that cash despite having never gone over 70 catches, 1,200 yards or 10 touchdowns during his seven-year career. Bryant has hit 90, 1,200 and 12 twice in only four seasons. They're in a completely different league. 

With that in mind and with two years having passed, I'd have to think Bryant is worth more than $30 million guaranteed. 


Case 6: Mike Wallace

Year: 2013
Age: 27
Deal: 5 years, $60 million with $27 million guaranteed

This is almost the exact same situation as Jackson's, except Wallace is closer to Bryant's age. Here's what each had done in the previous three seasons:

Wallace (2013) vs. Bryant
Previous three seasonsRECYDSYPCTD
Pro Football Reference

Wallace is the speedy big-play guy, but Bryant is a much more dominant, physical receiver. He's younger, and his numbers are better. 


Conclusion: Dez Bryant

Year: 2014
Age: 25
Deal: 6 years, $84 million with $30 million guaranteed

That would make Bryant the third highest-paid receiver in the league in terms of annual salary, but it would place him second when it comes to that all-important guarantee. Considering what he's done the last two years, as well as the fact he's still only 25 years old, that's gotta be about right in 2014. 

Now, if he were to once again put up All-Pro-caliber numbers in 2014, he'd probably be worth even more on the free-agent market next offseason. Worst-case scenario for the Cowboys, they'd keep him for about $13 million under the franchise tag. 

Regardless, we're looking at a receiver who is clearly worth $13-15 million per year and $30 million guaranteed over a five- or six-year contract. So if the Cowboys are expecting to spend less than that, they'd better take Bryant up on that potential hometown discount right now.