With Difficult NFL Comeback Ahead, Dez Bryant Could Have Used XFL

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 14, 2020

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31: Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 31, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Dez Bryant hasn't put together a 1,000-yard season since 2014, and he hasn't played in an NFL game since 2017. He was 26 in his last and only All-Pro season, he was 29 when he last caught an NFL pass, and he'll be 32 in November.

Now, after he missed all of the 2019 campaign while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in a practice with the New Orleans Saints in November 2018, the three-time Pro Bowler wants back in. But he has no interest in using the rebooted XFL to prove himself to NFL teams this winter. 

"Nah, not at all," Bryant said when asked by Dallas' Fox 4 if he'd consider joining the alternative league, via Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today. "I know I can still play. That's not an issue for me. I have high confidence in myself. No disrespect to the XFL, I just know I can play in [the NFL]. That's not a question."

But it hardly matters that he knows he can still play in the NFL.

Nobody is suggesting Bryant should give the XFL a shot in order to regain his own confidence. His task will be to convince one of that league's 32 franchises that he's worth the gamble, the roster spot, the money and the effort. 

And that might not be easy. 

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In Bryant's last three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, he caught just 50 percent of the passes thrown his way. Among 130 pass-catchers with at least 90 receptions during that stretch, he was the only player to post a catch rate of 50 percent or lower with a yards-per-reception average below 14.0. 

In other words, even before suffering a major injury during what amounted to a two-year layoff, Bryant had become one of the least efficient regular receivers in the NFL. 

Brad Penner/Associated Press

Few outside Bryant's inner circle likely imagine the 2010 first-round pick can suddenly recapture the magic he appeared to lose half a decade ago. And while he was still at least an NFL-caliber player in 2015, 2016 and 2017, concerns regarding his age and injuries could cause most teams to instead pay less for a younger player with even a morsel of upside. 

Maybe Bryant can convince the Cowboys to bring him "home" for a second helping in 2020, but that's no guarantee. He would be smart to try appealing to as many potential NFL employers as possible, and some—if not most or all—teams will want to see how he can perform in an actual game setting. 

That's where the XFL comes in. 

Bryant could have used the recently relaunched league to his benefit. He'd immediately become the XFL's biggest star, which would allow him to essentially audition under a spotlight for all 32 NFL teams every weekend between now and the end of April. 

At the very least, he could join an XFL team now and play a handful of games before free agency launches in the middle of March. The XFL would hate to lose him to an NFL squad at that point, but it would still benefit immensely from the publicity in the meantime. 

XFL commissioner Oliver Luck likely would have loved a shot at Dez Bryant.
XFL commissioner Oliver Luck likely would have loved a shot at Dez Bryant.Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

This could have been a win-win, but Bryant looks as though he's letting his ego get in the way. Either that or he fears another injury, which would certainly derail his comeback attempt. But if that's the case, that timid approach can't inspire much confidence from potential NFL suitors. 

"I'm where I need to be [physically] right now," Bryant told Mike Fisher of Sports Illustrated's CowboyMaven last month. "I'm more serious than ever. ... I'm 100 percent hungry for the right situation." 

But where he's at physically doesn't necessarily indicate how he'll perform in live action as a professional wide receiver. The XFL could offer him that opportunity right now.

How hungry can he be if he's not willing to maximize his exposure and give teams the most thorough possible look at his current abilities? 

"He has texted me that he would like to come back," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said last week, per Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We have nothing but great respect for Dez and what he accomplished here. Certainly, as we look forward into the future we look at all opportunities and all potential players that could maybe help us out."

Does it sound as though the Cowboys are ready to jump at a chance to sign Bryant?

And they should actually be considered one of the most sensible destinations for Bryant, not just because of their history, but also because a thin Dallas receiving corps could soon be gutted with Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin approaching free agency. 

But if the Cowboys do bring some or all of those veterans back, they'll likely want to invest in youth to join their re-signed wideouts alongside the returning Michael Gallup. That's the beauty of the draft: It's cheap, it's easy to at least add a body in the later rounds, and there's always a chance that player could turn into something special. 

Bryant's ceiling is known, which means his options are limited. There's a fear of the unknown without the upside.

The XFL could have at least helped help him change the first part. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.