Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Dez Bryant Could Finally Be Turning the Corner

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 7, 2014

Gus Ruelas/AP Images

1. Is Dez finally growing up?

What I'm about to say goes against the Dez Bryant narrative. A narrative that I believed in. 

I've always thought Bryant was an immature jackass who couldn't grow up. That still may be true, but a brawl at Cowboys camp this week made me rethink it. The fight happened when Bryant was pseudo-cheap-shotted by Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox. Bryant approached Wilcox and head-butted him.

Now, let's stop there. On the surface, that is just the kind of stupid, idiotic thing that would get Bryant in trouble during a game. It's the kind of thing you don't want him to do in practice because it might carry over into a critical spot in a real contest.

Yet there was a methodology to what Bryant was doing. He knows how bad his defense is going to be this season. It's going to be awful. It gave up the most yards in the NFL last season, by far, and during the offseason lost some critical players to free agency. This season's Cowboys defense will be worse than last season's.

So Bryant was trying to instill some toughness on that side of the ball—toughness that will be needed.

After Bryant's head-butt, Wilcox threw a punch that careened off Bryant's helmet. (Why would you punch a dude wearing a helmet?) The fight had begun, and then it was over as quickly as it started. For Bryant, it was mission accomplished.

Bryant told The Dallas Morning News' Rainer Saban:

J.J. put a nice hit on me. He pissed me off, but at the end of the day, I loved it. I told him, 'Keep it coming.' Hopefully the rest of the guys on that defense—not only the defense, but the offense and the whole team—feed off of that. That's what it takes to win. That's what we need to win. You've got to have that passion and that love for the game.

Bryant has been picking fights with the defense all camp. Talking smack, challenging them, pushing them. It's his attempt to get them as tough as he is.

I love this. I. Love. This.

This is the type of thing that if almost any other player were doing it, he'd be lauded. There would be odes written to Andrew Luck if he were firing up his defense like this.

I have not always been Bryant's biggest fan, but I'm starting to change my mind.

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 28:   Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys makes a touchdown pass reception against Mike Jenkins #21 of the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium on November 28, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Here's the thing: What's always been true about Bryant is that if he ever got his head right, he'd be the best receiver in football.

That may be happening. Finally.


2. Favre comes home

Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre throws downfield as he runs out of the backfield away from Seahawks Bryce Fisher during the first half of the NFL game on Monday Night Football November 27, 2006 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Kevin Case
Kevin Casey/Getty Images

This was bound to happen, and it's good that it finally is: Brett Favre will be inducted into the Packers' Hall of Fame and have his No. 4 retired.

Favre once told me, years ago, that he would probably have his ashes spread across Lambeau Field. He was joking (I think), but the Packers organization without Favre is like having the cornflakes without the milk.

Next for Favre will be the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


3. Dalton contract

Al Behrman/Associated Press

The key part of Andy Dalton's new contract is that he basically gets $25 million over the next two years, via Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. I initially thought that was way too much, and I still think it's a lot to give to Dalton. But it's not horrible.

Now comes the hard part for Dalton: living up to the money. Consider these numbers from ESPN's Trey Wingo:

When you are outplayed by Mark Sanchez, that is not good. 


4. "Two security guys popped out"

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25:  Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder walks the sidelines prior to the start of a preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

OK, Dan Snyder. Alright. Whatever. Got it. Sure thing. Snyder remains stubbornly on the wrong side of this issue, and nothing can change that. Not even publicity stunts like that one.


5. Hall of Fame contributors

The Hall of Fame recently announced it is planning to add a contributor category, which is something that should have happened a long time ago. A contributor is basically someone who didn't play or coach in the game. There are a great many potential names.

My list of five who deserve consideration:

Art Modell: He's still despised by many Browns fans, but outside of Cleveland, he is seen as a critical part of NFL history. He'll get in; it's just a matter of time.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Eddie DeBartolo Jr.: Was one of the best owners in the history of sports. DeBartolo did a shameful thing but paid his penance. He'll get in, too.

Amy Trask: (Bias alert: Trask is a friend, but I would write this regardless. Plus, this is my opinion, not a news story.) Trask is one of the most underrated team executives in league history. She was the first female front-office executive and was a stabilizing force in a Raiders organization that was difficult to stabilize because of the great-but-mercurial force of nature, Al Davis. She spent almost three decades with the Raiders and became one of the most trusted people in the NFL.

George Young: Hired Bill Parcells; drafted Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms and Michael Strahan; won two Super Bowls.

Ernie Accorsi: Three title games in Cleveland, and the only reason he had no Super Bowl appearances as a Brown was a guy named John Elway. Accorsi then went to New York and traded for Eli Manning, and then Manning won two Super Bowls.

BILL KOSTROUN/Associated Press

In my Hall of Fame fantasy world, media members—a very small number—would enter the Hall of Fame as contributors. Two names to consider:

Lesley Visser: She was the first woman to serve as a television analyst for an NFL game, among many other contributions. One of the most accomplished sports journalists ever and a huge presence across the decades in the NFL.

Andrea Kremer: Like Visser, another pioneer, and I could make the argument she's one of the top three NFL journalists ever. Her numerous pieces of investigative journalism pulled back the curtains on the sport the way few others covering the NFL ever have.

To me, both Visser and Kremer have had more accomplishments and more reach than almost any other journalist in the Hall of Fame. The Dick McCann Award is given for "a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage." If you look at the list of recipients, it has—ahem—a certain male pattern baldness pattern to it. (And I know there is the Rozelle award for TV types but this is my dream and in my dream all media goes in as contributors under one umbrella.)

It's fairly shameful few women are in the Hall, particularly when more than a few are deserving.


6. Strahan's greatness

His Hall of Fame speech was easily one of the best I've ever heard, and I've heard every one since the late 1980s either in person or on television. Strahan was able to combine humor, emotion and personal anecdotes in a speech that didn't run nine hours long.

And that is typical Strahan. I might've sat at Strahan's locker 20 or 30 times when covering him, and he was always the same: real. Not an ounce of phony in him. Just...real.


7. Bills' grim quarterback situation

Bills QBs in preseason opener
EJ Manuel2-of-7190-039.6
Jeff Tuel12-of-17741-174.1
Thad Lewis10-of-16870-150.8

It was the first preseason game, but wow, was that bad. Really, really bad. EJ Manuel looked lost. There didn't seem to be any progression from last year.

The really concerning aspect is the accuracy of his throws—there barely is any. That's the main concern. It was stunning to see, and I can tell you there are players on the Bills who noticed as well.

Meanwhile, in other Bills news, Donald Trump is probably full of it.


8. Yes, the Patriots cheated, but...

Philly corner Cary Williams said, via NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks, he doesn't want to practice against the Patriots later this month because they are cheaters.

"They are cheaters," he said. "They are. You got caught."

Here we go again.

Skip Rowland/Associated Press

Yes, the Patriots cheated, and the organization was penalized heavily for it. And yes, the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since that happened.

But two things:

First, the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since Spygate, but they have been to the Super Bowl, losing to the Giants, one of the great big-game franchises in the league.

Second, we need to understand what exactly happened. The Patriots cheated, but they were penalized more for arrogance than cheating.

What is often lost in this story is that every team illegally taped practices then. Every. One. It got so bad the NFL sent out a memo to every franchise, telling them to stop doing it. 

Bill Belichick kept doing it. And continued. And continued. He gave the NFL the middle finger, and the NFL responded with a punch to the jaw.

Taping practices yields almost no usable intelligence. This is the dirty little secret of the Spygate saga. Teams privately admit this. They do it just in case...just in case that 0.1 percent chance comes to fruition. It's the same as playing the lottery. You've got no shot at winning, but you play just in case.

Belichick cheated the way everyone else cheated. He was just obnoxious about it.


9. Who would eat this junk?

Why? Just why? Does it at least come with a defibrillator? Or statins? Some running shoes? A cardiologist?


10. Last word on Ray Rice (for now)

OWINGS MILLS, MD - MAY 23:  Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens addresses a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rice spoke publicly for the first time since facing felony a
Rob Carr/Getty Images

One of the smartest responses on the entire sordid Ray Rice episode came from Gretchen Shaw, the director of strategic partnerships and projects for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I wrote the two-game suspension was light and asked Shaw to comment on that and the NFL's approach overall to domestic violence.

Here's what she wrote me:

I agree that the sentence is definitely light. I am disappointed, but not terribly surprised by it. Batterers too often get away with their abuse in general which is a significant part of the problem. The NFL is not unique to this, but I wish that were different.

I was one of the NCADV participants on the video conference with the NFL player-engagement staff last year that Greg Aiello referred to in your last article and do believe the NFL has interest in the issue. However, I haven’t seen any definitive programming come to fruition yet. My hope is that it still will.

What also fascinates me is that football fans seem to want to be part of the solution from what we see. Since your article was published (last month), we experienced a bump in donations, most from men. Additionally, last year a fantasy football team encouraged their participants to give to NCADV in honor of Adrian Peterson and in memory of his two-year-old son. Within 24 hours, this team alone raised over $4,000 for NCADV. It was amazing.

I think if the NFL addressed the issue of domestic violence as an institution, they would see more loyalty, more fan participation, and more support overall rather than not. They have much more to lose, in my opinion, by remaining on the periphery of this issue than they would if they took a more active stance.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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