IRVING, Texas – The July 15 deadline for Dez Bryant to sign a long-term contract first entered the common conversation all the way back on March 2 – the day the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on their All-Pro receiver.
Impossibly, after countless hours of discussion and debate, the deadline is in sight. Roughly 48 hours from now, at 3 p.m. CT on Wednesday afternoon, the deadline will hit. If Bryant and the Cowboys haven't agreed to a long-term contract by that time, then negotiations must cease and can't continue until after the regular season concludes in January 2016.
Starting on Wednesday afternoon, Dez's only available option if he wants to play football in 2015 is to sign the franchise tender and play on a one-year contract worth roughly $12.8 million.
Of course, he doesn't necessarily have to play this season. Word surfaced as far back as a month ago that Bryant was willing to sit out of training camp and parts of the regular season if he isn't signed to a long-term deal this summer.
That talking point returned in full force on Monday, and from Bryant's own mouth. The Pro Bowl receiver reiterated once again on Twitter that he won't be on hand for training camp if he doesn't have a new contract by Wednesday.
The story of the next two days will center on whether the Cowboys take that seriously or not. Given that he's not technically under contract, Bryant can't be fined or penalized for skipping the entirety of training camp.
Once the season starts, however, he stands to lose his weekly paycheck under the franchise tag for every game he misses. For those keeping score, that comes out to about $750,000 for every game he sits out.[embeddedad0]
Asked about it during the Cowboys' minicamp in June, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he had confidence in Bryant to be available once the season rolls around.
"If we're still in a franchise situation with Dez, I have no doubt that he'll be leading the way against the New York Giants," Jones said at the time. "We just know how competitive Dez is and how much he wants to beat the Giants and how much he wants to support his teammates."
Jones certainly has reason to believe that, given the events of this past spring. Bryant has largely been absent from team activities since he was tagged, but he hasn't quite been able to stay away. He stopped by the team facility in May to meet first-round draft pick Byron Jones, and he attended one of the Cowboys' OTA practices.
He capped that off by attending the final day of mandatory minicamp, watching a motivational video with the team and having various conversations with teammates and front office members.
Whether that means Bryant will report to camp – or for the start of the regular season – remains to be seen. The Cowboys depart for Oxnard, Calif., on July 28, roughly two weeks after Wednesday's deadline.
Suffice to say, the next two days will determine a lot about the weeks to come.