Anyone wondering why the Dallas Cowboys released Dez Bryant in early April only needed to watch the latest in the captivating Amazon series, “All or Nothing,” to get the answer.
In the series, you see Bryant’s passion for winning, which sometimes poured out in the form of sideline outbursts that Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones eventually called a “distraction” in January. On the field, viewers also saw Bryant struggle to shake coverage (particularly downfield) and consistently sync up with quarterback Dak Prescott — whose overall ball placement perhaps wasn’t as consistent as Tony Romo’s.
Bryant, who ended up catching 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, was released last month, saving the Cowboys approximately $8 million in salary cap space.
“The [inability] to win one-on-one, to win downfield. There was inconsistency, as well as some huge things in his play. … It’s a production-based business,” Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay explained in a radio interview on ESPN 103.3 FM.
McClay later softened the statement, but rival evaluators polled by Yahoo Sports aren’t necessarily surprised Bryant hasn’t found work yet after reportedly turning down a three-year deal worth $7 million per season with the Baltimore Ravens in hopes of landing a one-year deal that would allow him to cash in next season.
“With [his] person, age and money demands, it’s an uphill battle for him,” one decision-maker told Yahoo Sports.
Still, there are some who believe in Bryant, who say his passion and skills could still add some spice to the right locker room. He’s only 29 years old, and while he dropped 10 passes last year — which tied for first in the league with the Denver Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas, according to Football Outsiders — he remains one of the NFL’s best receivers after the catch, as his 21 broken tackles in 2017 ranked fourth behind Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions and Devante Adams of the Green Bay Packers.
“I know his skillset is still there,” one evaluator said. “Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs to get back to those numbers he’s been putting up the previous years with Romo. I certainly feel like he can still play at a very high level. He’s a football player and a very good one that’s sometimes misunderstood.”
Another rival evaluator agreed that Bryant could still be a productive receiver in the right situation, someone whose size (6-feet-2, 222 pounds), competitiveness and adequate quickness in short, initial bursts off the line is comparable to Anquan Boldin at this stage of his career, albeit with a caveat.
“Teams are scared to death of the temper,” the evaluator said. “High-risk, low reward. … He needs a team with an experienced quarterback that won’t take any [expletive] from him.”
One oddsmaker apparently agrees. The bookmakers at Bovada.lv provided Yahoo Sports with updated odds on Bryant’s future home over the weekend, and it’s probably no coincidence that five of the top six teams on the list have experienced, proven quarterbacks with an established track record of success.
With all that in mind, let’s count down the teams the smart money likes for Bryant, with an emphasis on scheme and personnel fit.
6. New England Patriots: 6/1
There’s little doubt coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have the gravitas to ingratiate Bryant into the Patriot Way. New England loves to find value, and it’s possible Bryant will outperform any one-year deal he signs, especially with a quarterback like Brady throwing him the ball. Outside of entrenched starter Julian Edelman, the Patriots have three decent options at receiver in Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan and Jordan Matthews, but Mitchell and Matthews have injury histories while Hogan is steady, but unspectacular. Bryant’s size and red-zone ability could be attractive to the Patriots.
5. Indianapolis Colts: 6/1
The Colts signed a solid possession receiver this offseason in Ryan Grant (albeit on a one-year deal) and first-year head coach Frank Reich would need to be comfortable bringing Bryant’s fiery persona into his locker room. But second-year general manager Chris Ballard isn’t playing around when it comes to improving the weapons around quarterback Andrew Luck. In this year’s draft alone, he selected two offensive guards, two receivers and two running backs to increase the Colts’ overall talent level on that side of the ball. Fifth-round pick Daurice Fountain and sixth-round pick Deon Cain could outperform their draft slots one day, but receivers often take a year to acclimate to the NFL and behind T.Y. Hilton, there’s no one the caliber of Bryant, who brings an experienced red-zone and third-down element this roster severely lacks.
4. Carolina Panthers: 6/1
Here’s another spot with an experienced, respected quarterback in Cam Newton. The Panthers, however, have a fairly defined top three at receiver; Devin Funchess is a possession receiver in Bryant’s mold who is back after a solid 2017 campaign in the No. 1 slot, catching 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns. What’s more, he’ll be only 24 later this month and still has room to develop. Recently acquired speedster Torrey Smith is a downfield threat, while promising 2018 first-round pick D.J. Moore might work the best out of the slot, at least initially. They also signed Jairus Wright as a free agent to compete in the slot, so there would appear to be a logjam at receiver. Newton has publicly stated his desire to bring Bryant to the Panthers, and perhaps that will come into play if someone in his receiving corps gets hurt.
3. Washington Redskins: 5/1
Washington is set at receiver with a top three of Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and newly signed Paul Richardson, but a Bryant signing down the road could make some sense, especially if Doctson, a former first-round pick, doesn’t take the expected third-year leap or Richardson, who missed all but one game in 2015 due to a knee injury, gets hurt again. Quarterback Alex Smith is respected league wide for the way he shed the bust label several years into his career, and Bryant is the type of big-bodied receiver he could come to trust on third down, similar to the way he vibed with Chris Conley before the latter’s season-ending Achilles injury with the Kansas City Chiefs last October. Washington is also in the NFC East, which means Bryant could face Dallas twice.
2. New York Giants: 15/4
In New York, Bryant would have the benefit of not only joining a head coach with a good offensive mind in Pat Shurmur, but also being the second-biggest personality in his receiving room due to the presence of Odell Beckham Jr. What’s more, the Giants could use a strong possession receiver to pair with Beckham, stud slot receiver Sterling Shepard and emerging young tight end Evan Engram. NFL Network reported in April that the Giants — who have only about $5 million in cap room — were not interested in Bryant at that time, but Bryant has previously gushed about the possibility of playing in New York and the football fit makes enough sense to remain an option.
1. Houston Texans: 3/1
The Texans lack a proven, veteran quarterback, but second-year pro Deshaun Watson has consistently shown a coolness under pressure that belies his 22 years on this earth. Bryant would also be an excellent football fit; while the Texans have some intriguing slot types on the roster, including Bruce Ellington, Braxton Miller and 2018 fourth-round pick Keke Coutee, Bryant is the type of big, proven possession receiver the roster lacks beyond the team’s clear No. 1 target, DeAndre Hopkins. Throw in the fact that several Texans have campaigned for Bryant to join the team — not to mention the fact Houston is only two hours away from his hometown — and it’s easy to understand why they check in at No. 1 on this list.
Others to watch, according to Bovada:
New Orleans Saints (13/2): Quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton could draw the best out of Bryant, and beyond Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, there are no proven options.
Green Bay Packers (8/1): Former Bryant teammate Jason Witten recently predicted the Packers would be Dez’s destination, and it makes sense. Rodgers is an NFL icon, and there’s a void at No. 3 receiver with the departure of Jordy Nelson. The Packers selected three receivers in the draft, but it’s tough to expect a rookie to be great, at least initially, in this offense. Bryant could be a nice bridge option, someone who could maximize his stats with Rodgers in a prove-it year that could get him paid next March.
San Francisco 49ers (8/1): Coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t scared of big personalities, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a stud. But Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin have a hold on the starting spots, while 2018 second-round pick Dante Pettis already does some of the things that Bryant does well.
Buffalo Bills (9/1): The Bills finished 31st in passing last season, so in a vacuum, he could help here. But Kelvin Benjamin is a possession receiver in a similar mold, and quarterback A.J. McCarron would have to prove he could get Bryant the ball consistently.
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