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Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Has Dallas Had Enough of Dez?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 28, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field after their 20-17 win over the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 17, 2017 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Dez Bryant's future in Dallas is anything but clear, the Rams make a heist in broad daylight, and Tom Brady's combine troubles. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.  

   

1. Is Dez done?

There are few teams in the NFL, if any, that believe Dez Bryant is still a major force at receiver. 

Consider the phrases some teams used with me to describe him: "possession receiver," "lost a step," "second or third option." He's viewed by some teams as a rapidly declining talent, and many wonder if he can be a great receiver again.

But what I've learned about Bryant over the years is that you doubt him at your own peril. He remains one of the most mentally and physically tough players of his generation. So as some teams, possibly even the Cowboys, plot his demise, be careful, because Bryant is still capable of surprising everyone.

"I'm still working," Bryant told 105.3 The Fan, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. "I'm still grinding. I feel like I'm grinding more than ever because of me, not because of nobody else. It's something that I want to do. It's something I feel like I have to do.

"I let a lot of things get in the way that should have never got in the way. I'm ready to make my mark. I don't care what nobody is talking about. I couldn't care less. Everybody that ain't with Dez Bryant, they can kiss my ass."

That's the Bryant doubters had better watch out for.

Still, there are legitimate concerns. Bryant no longer terrifies defenses the way he once did. And more troubling, his productivity has declined sharply. Bryant played a full 16-game season last year but had just 69 catches, 838 yards and six touchdowns. He hasn't had more than 1,000 yards receiving since 2014.

The Cowboys also appear willing to publicly challenge Bryant in ways they wouldn't have dared just three or four years ago. Take what Stephen Jones, the team's executive vice president, said about Bryant at the Senior Bowl:

"The other thing that we all see, and it is certainly visible to anyone who watches our games, watches our sideline, is Dez is certainly a fiery guy who plays with a lot of emotion both on and off the field," Jones told the Dallas Morning News. "Sometimes that can be a distraction. It can be a distraction for Dez; it can be a distraction for other teammates. And we just have to really get our hands around when you put all the full body of work together where that's headed."

Where all of this is leading is still unknown, but a departure from Dallas isn't out of the question for the 29-year-old. His salary will count $16.5 million against the team's cap, and if the Cowboys release him, they could save about half of that money. (Remember, though, teams can always find creative ways to restructure deals if they want to keep a player).

Bryant is one of the best pure talents I've ever covered. Despite his reputation for sometimes being emotional, he did whatever was asked of him on the field. And while some teams may be ready to write him off, to me, he's not done. Not yet. 

     

2. A real steal

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

There's always the possibility that the Chiefs know things about cornerback Marcus Peters that aren't public. Maybe he's a bad guy in private or a locker room cancer. Maybe I'm Captain Kirk.

There are a lot of maybes.

But there is also much we do know.

Such as the fact that I've confirmed the Chiefs traded Peters and a sixth-round pick to the Rams in exchange for a 2018 fourth-rounder and a 2019 second-rounder. And that is a good old-fashioned piece of thievery by the Rams.

And that Peters is one of the 10 best pure athletes in the NFL, a top-five corner and a game-changing presence that will make an already good Rams defense a terrific one.

However, we also know that Peters has shown he needs to mature, but when I was in my mid-20s, I needed to mature, too. (Hell, I need to mature now.) Peters, though, threw a flag into the stands and got into a confrontation with a coach.

But are those two incidents that bad? There are Hall of Famers who did far worse than that.

And for the Rams to understand made for a great acquisition.

    

3. Hockey facing its own CTE crisis

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 08:  Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars is injured with a head concussion against the Minnesota Wild on March 8, 2014 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Dallas won 4-3. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel has a compelling look at the head trauma crisis in the NHL. The NHL, just as the NFL did early on in its own head trauma crisis, denies that there is a link between CTE and hockey. As we saw in the NFL, that inability to acknowledge there could be a connection led to numerous delays in addressing the issue.

Now it appears it is the NHL's turn to display the same kind of stupidity, an oversight that is likely to cost the league and its players the same way it did the NFL.

    

4. Could Russell Wilson be sending a secret message?

Russell Wilson @DangeRussWilson

Bronx Bombers Home Run Derby Watch all my @Yankees Spring Training experience on @TraceMe_App https://t.co/ThXdEJv4s6

If you didn't know, you'd think the man in the batting cage was any other professional baseball player. But it's Russell Freaking Wilson. And, to me, he looks pretty good for a football player.

Why is he at spring training with the Yankees?

Is it a ploy to get a better contract?

Perhaps.

Sure, Wilson may be taking cuts in the batting cage just to scratch his baseball itch, but what if it's more than that? What if it's a not-so-subtle hint to the Seahawks that he could give up this NFL life and leave for baseball if he doesn't get a new deal soon. Wilson is currently the ninth-highest-paid QB in the NFL, according to Over The Cap, which is nothing to shrug at. But look at some of the names who are better compensated: Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins—none of whom are slouches, but none of whom have reached two Super Bowls, either.

So, yes, there is a possibility that Wilson is involved in some high-priced gamesmanship here. 

Are you paying attention, Seattle?

    

5. Poor Tom

Every year around the time of the combine, the video of Tom Brady running his 40-yard dash (slowly) in 2000 makes its return. Every. Damn. Year.

This year, Brady jokingly responded to the video.

Dov Kleiman @NFL_DovKleiman

Tom Brady had just about enough of this video [comment] https://t.co/DVq31gCjeS

It has to be annoying for Brady, the best quarterback of all time, with five Super Bowl wins, a supermodel wife, millions in the bank and a career as a model himself. It's a rough life. That slow 40 broke him.

Be strong, Tom.

It will get better.

    

6. Scarcity value

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley made a compelling case for why the Bears will take Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the eighth overall selection in the draft this spring.

Finley also mentioned how rare it is for a guard to be taken in the top eight:

"Since the Jets drafted Dave Cadigan eighth overall 30 years ago, only two players selected in the top eight have gone on to spend their careers exclusively at guard," Finley wrote. "A whopping 34 top-eight players have appeared at tackle."

The passing game is still king, but if you look at recent Super Bowl winners, including the Eagles, running the football was a key component to their success. And as teams have again become more reliant on the running game, run-blocking guards have increased in value.

That would explain the speculation that Nelson is a good fit for the Bears. The Notre Dame veteran might be just what a young quarterback and running game need to prosper. 

    

7. Are the NBA and NFL rules racist?

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio raised an interesting question this week in asking if the rules the NBA and NFL use to determine a high school athlete's draft eligibility carry an "inherent racial bias?"

Florio didn't take this leap blindly. Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy touched on the overall topic recently in discussing the NBA's one-and-done rule, which stipulates that players are not eligible for the draft until they are either 19 years old or a year removed from high school graduation, meaning many of the best talents go to college for a year while others play overseas.

"The people who were against them coming out made a lot of excuses, but a lot of it was racist," Van Gundy told reporters. "The reason I'm going to say that is I've never heard anybody go up arms about letting kids go out and play minor league baseball or hockey. They're not making big money and they're white kids and nobody has a problem. But all of a sudden, you've got a black kid who wants to come out of high school and make millions—that's a bad decision?

"But bypassing college to go play for $800 a month in minor league baseball—that's a fine decision? What the hell is going on."

What does this have to do with football? Well, as Florio noted, the NFL's draft rules aren't all that dissimilar in their restrictiveness, requiring players to be at least three years removed from the graduation date of their high school class. Indeed, the notion that the NFL's draft rules could be racially prejudiced in and of themselves is something I've heard in league circles for years. Players have told me so. 

The NFL (whose player membership is approximately 70 percent black) has argued the rule is needed to protect young men who aren't ready to take on grown-ass men in the NFL. But, as Van Gundy mentioned, the real reason may have more to do with race and money than personal safety. "I've never heard anybody go up arms about letting kids go out and play minor-league baseball or hockey," Van Gundy said. "They’re not making big money and they’re white kids and nobody has a problem."

In truth, the NFL's rule is more about using college football as a free farm system, as Florio noted. Making players wait only serves the teams deciding these players' fates.

    

8. The Jaguars and Blake Bortles, a smart combination

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up before the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Image
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

While the Jaguars' decision to sign Blake Bortles to a new contract may have surprised fans and talking heads in the media, the main thing I hear from teams is that the Jaguars needed to do it. They had no choice.

Bortles was expensive but not as expensive as some may think. He signed a three-year, $54 million contract with $26.5 million guaranteed, I've confirmed. That is not that much for a starting quarterback.

Many teams with whom I spoke added that getting a starting quarterback on the open market, like Kirk Cousins, would cost considerably more. To the NFL's way of thinking, teams take risks with quarterbacks all the time; all the Jaguars did was take a risk with a player they knew, and one who is incredibly popular in the locker room.

All in all, it seems like the Jaguars did something smart, a sentiment few have associated with Jacksonville in past years.

    

9. Biggest free-agency winner will be...Aaron Rodgers?

As QB after QB signs once free agency starts, remember one thing: none of them compare in talent to Aaron Rodgers. And though their new deals may surpass that of the Packers' franchise talent, it won't be for too long. Rodgers, soon, will easily be the highest-paid player in NFL history. He deserves it.

    

10. Money can't buy happiness

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora recently noted that of the top 10 spending teams last season, only three made the playoffs A quick look at Spotrac.com finds the big spenders did a little better, sending four of the top 10 into the postseason. Still, it's clear that money can't be expected to buy postseason class.

   

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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