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Spagnola: Throwing Up One Last X For Dez On His Way Out The Door
FRISCO, Texas – Maybe they just knew what was about to take place on Friday the 13th.
Maybe they already had come to grips with what just had to be a gripping conversation.
But as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Dez Bryant were walking down the hallway here at The Star, heading up the stairs to Jerry’s office when I ran into them, both were smiling, both were sort of laughing –maybe at the coincidence of bumping into little ol’ me on the way to long-awaited summit meeting – almost as if two best friends were hooking up.
Dez was in a good mood. Shook my hand. He’s been in the league eight years. Couldn’t have been naïve enough to think this was going to turn out well. He had to know he was a cut-receiver walking.
He was. And he hadn’t walked under any ladder.
Within 30 minutes the inevitable occurred. Maybe not shocking if we’ve been reading the tea leaves, but at least somewhat surprising to me from the practical standpoint, however you look at this, from a pure talent standpoint, this move releasing the team’s most lethal wide receiver on the roster does not make the Cowboys better.
Oh sure, they recoup his $12.5 million base salary, but at the same time, they also pour another $8 million dead money into their salary cap, bringing that total to a robust $22.77 million. So, since they did not designate Dez a June 1 release, the Cowboys recoup a grand total of $8.5 million for 2018.
Business decision, figuring production and salary have not been matching up? Probably.
Declining talent? Not totally sold on that, and we’ll find out here pretty quickly, because my guess is there is some team that might say, you know, for an incentive-based contract, this guy is 10 times better than my, say, second receiver. Heck, as I’ve pointed out, Dez’ average year of 2017 still was better than any of the free agents who signed for ridiculous amounts of money, including Sammy Watkins, who the Cowboys supposedly flirted with, and way better than those seasons of the two receivers they did sign, Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson
Team aspect decision? Maybe. Not that Dez was a cancer in the locker room. He really wasn’t. Many of his teammates came out to greet him upon his arrival and wish him well on his way out. But as you are witnessing, the Cowboys have been turning over this roster. They are getting younger. Newer. This no longer is Tony Romo’s team. Oh gosh, the millennials are now taking over at The Star, too. At this point, there are 32 players currently under contract no more than 25 years of age. Probably can add at least another half-dozen to that after the draft.
And maybe the Cowboys were over overlooking some of Dez’ bad habits to set an example for these younger guys. Remember the tale of “17 Inches.” Maybe there were too many instances of someone saying – or thinking – hey, how come my plate isn’t 19 inches wide?
In any event, Dez, who had pulled his car right up to the back entrance to Ford Center, said his goodbyes on the way out, and I’m told the last thing he said before exiting, somewhat emotionally at that point, was, “See you guys twice this season.”
Meaning he would exact some show-you revenge by signing with an NFC East team, or possibly could that mean Houston, since the Cowboys play the Texans in the preseason and regular season. We’ll see.
Breakups are never easy. Some out there might choose to wallow in remorse. Some probably like to dance on someone’s grave.
Me, and you guys obviously know from a talent standpoint, no matter the falling numbers of this past season, I would not have rolled the dice releasing Dez. So, I choose to look at Dez Bryant’s career as one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
No way that Dez Bryant, with but two seasons and three games of college experience, ends up the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise leader in touchdown receptions (73), more than two Pro Football Hall of Famers (Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes), and all three Ring of Honor receivers (add Drew Pearson). He ends up third all-time in receptions, behind just future Hall of Famer Jason Witten (15 years) and Irvin (12 years). He ends up fourth in career receiving yards (7,498) and owns the club record with 16 touchdowns in one season.
His is a career that should be celebrated. We documented back this time in 2010 all the reasons why the Cowboys should not draft this Bryant kid from Lufkin, Texas. Tough upbringing. Undisciplined. Little college experience. Trouble seemed to follow him, not that he was a bad dude. Don’t need him.
Yet the Cowboys rolled the dice, trading up three spots to 24th to grab – hold their breath – Bryant.
Then I learned over that first year of his hardscrabble youth. That he never had his own bed in his own bedroom growing up until he landed in the dorm at Oklahoma State. That far too many times he did not have lunch nor lunch money during his Lufkin school days, to the point teachers would bring extra food to share with the basically parentless kid. Absent dad. Mom for a time in prison.
Dez did not grow up like most of us, me definitely counting my growing-up lucky stars for sure.
To this day, ever since he showed up at The Ranch for the first time, and was overly respectful during our first interview for the Dallas Cowboys Draft Special Show and answered my questions by calling me “sir” so many times I nearly said, look, knock it off, I’m not that old and even if I was, I remember what Michael Irvin told me of the kid, pointing out most kids raised living here and there, with this relative and that relative, scrambling every step of the way in life, are either on the streets selling drugs, in prison or dead.
Michael very thoughtfully said that day, “And for him to have started where he started and to be where he is, he’s to be commended, saying he’s never been arrested or anything . . . that’s why it’s important to remind him he’s to be commended for where he’s come from, from where he was, he is to be commended (for where he is). And that’s real.”
Was Dez perfect? No. Was at times he too emotional? Yes. Was he ever a great route runner? No.
But was he a great player? Absolutely, one of the most physically gifted in Cowboys history, maybe second to only the speed of “Bullet” Bob Hayes. Remember head coach Jason Garrett telling me they just needed to get him the ball, because “no one out there wants to tackle him.”
Me, I’ll never forget the catch against Green Bay in that 2014 season playoff game that’s taken folks three years to realize what he did was a catch, mostly because of his most uncommon ability while covered like a blanket, to leap, catch, land, stumble, take two steps and realize by God if I stretch out with the ball for the end zone I’m going to score the winning touchdown.
Yep, sort of sad to see him go, although if we all hang around long enough doing what we love to do, we all go, and most not on our own terms. Let’s remember, Dez is not the first franchise-type player the Cowboys have cut. They cut Troy Aikman. They cut Emmitt Smith. They traded Tony Dorsett and Bob Hayes. They cut Larry Allen.
Heck, Tom Landry was fired, too.
There is no immunity.
So raise one for Dez. Wish him good luck -- good luck on his next NFL stop, and more than that, good luck in life, period. He should never forget from where he came from and how far he’s come.
Come on, one last time, go ahead and do it: