Dez Bryant is one of the NFL's most underpaid wideouts, but if he can hold off that instant-gratification urge for just one more season, he will parlay patience into perhaps the most lucrative deal at the position in league history.
Negotiations have presumably been ongoing between Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys all offseason long, but things have recently come to a head, as 23-year-old left tackle Tyron Smith was hit with an eight-year extension worth $110 million, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer.
Never mind the fact Smith is worth every penny (Brad Gagnon has an excellent breakdown of it here)—this has led many to speculate that cold hard cash earmarked for Bryant's extension just went out the window. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the well is now dry on an extension:
With Tyron Smith’s deal, it’s nearly impossible to do Dez Bryant’s extension now. Little progress anyway. He may benefit from playing it out— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 30, 2014
It meshes well with a note from Rapoport earlier in the offseason, as captured by NFL.com's Chris Wesseling: "The Cowboys want to see their No. 1 receiver continue to exhibit increasing maturity before forking over a boatload of guaranteed money"
Well, unless one wants to believe sources who spoke with Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Per a source, the cowboys have a little less than $10 million cap room after the Tyron Smith deal, plenty of space to get an ext for Dez— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) July 30, 2014
The point is, nobody really knows how the Smith extension impacts things, but vice president Stephen Jones says the transaction was one step in a rather large plan.
“We’re totally committed to make Dez a Cowboy for life,” Jones said, via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Our plans from Day 1...figure a way to get Dez and Tyron extended.”
For Bryant, it matters little if his money this year has been doled out to other players, and ditto for the fact he only makes a base salary of $1.78 million this year. It stings in negotiations that the Cowboys now have freed up franchise-tag leverage, but that's still in the neighborhood of a cool $12 million if it comes to that.
Even if it does, Bryant has to hold out for that long-term agreement. The market never goes down. ESPNDallas.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor puts it best:
Understand this: The market never, ever goes down. The Cowboys can either use Bryant to set the market or they can let other teams establish the market after deals with Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Atlanta's Julio Jones, Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Chicago's Alshon Jeffery get done.
Funnily enough, Taylor's excellent piece details why the Cowboys need to get a deal done now, and the reasons go hand-in-hand with why Bryant should wait.
Look at the above names, and then compare last year's output with Bryant:
ESPN. *Jones missed most of 2013 due to injury.
There is an argument to be made that Bryant will outplay every one of these names in 2014, but they are also likely, sans Alshon Jeffery (at least as of this writing), to get record-setting deals.
Bryant is on the hunt for a contract in an era when Mike Wallace gets five years and $60 million and Percy Harvin gets six years and $64.2 million. The former has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark twice and double-digit scores once in five years, and the latter has a career-high six scores and 967 yards in that same span.
There is a reason Bryant showed up on time to training camp this year. The Cowboys want a mature Dez Bryant, and it is what they are getting at 25 years of age, as Taylor recorded:
Truthfully, to be honest, I put my teammates first," Bryant said after practice Thursday. "That's the God-honest truth. Coach [Scott] Linehan here is new. It's a new offense. I need to be there, and a lot of these guys look up to me.
"I couldn't be selfish. I can't be selfish. I won't be selfish. Like I said, that stuff, eventually, I promise it will take care of itself, regardless of what the situation is.
If that is not good enough, then Bryant will get his on the market this time next year, or the year after.
Should Dallas not want to fork over the cash, a team such as Miami a year ago will get ridiculous and throw lofty numbers around, except Bryant is not Wallace—he's a game-breaking player, a franchise cornerstone, a guy who keeps defensive coordinators up at night and the monster who has averages of 92.5 catches, 1,307.5 yards and 12.5 touchdowns the past two seasons.
Scariest of all? We do not really know where the ceiling is.
There is an inherent risk Bryant exposes himself to by playing out the rest of his rookie deal, but in his situation, it is a safe gamble with a ludicrous payout.
Bryant is not a diva wideout, nor does his situation warrant any such behavior. More cash right now would be great, but there is more to gain through patience.
Note: All salary info courtesy of Spotrac.