FRISCO, Texas –Dez Bryant could stand his silence no longer.
It's been a lengthy two months since a disappointing season ended, and Bryant has been a lightning rod of criticism for a team that entered 2017 with Super Bowl aspirations but slunk to the finish line without a playoff appearance.
The former All-Pro receiver was plagued by drops and diminishing performances throughout the season, drawing plenty of discussion about his long-term future and whether he is in line for a pay cut. As recently as Thursday night, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the front office would be "trying to determine what is in the best interest of our business," regarding Bryant.
Almost as if on cue, Bryant had his rebuttal ready. Appearing in a 20-minute interview on 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas on Friday night, he responded to two months of scrutiny about his career and his contract.
"I just think it's crazy," Bryant said. "I'll be straight up honest. I think everything I've got, I deserve it. And I can get into way more details with that, but I'll leave that up to when it's time for me to sit down and talk with the Joneses – whenever that is."
To be clear, it doesn't sound like there's any sort of breaking news coming in the immediate future. Bryant said he hasn't had any contact with the Cowboys about a potential pay cut or a re-structure, and he added that he hasn't discussed the issue with his agent.
Instead, Bryant focused instead on the talk – a boatload of it. From the time the Cowboys' performance began to dip back in November, lasting up until now, Bryant has been the subject of scrutiny. There's the matter of his $12.5 million salary and his $16.5 million cap hit for 2018. There's the conversation about his connection with Dak Prescott. There's debate about his injuries – which limited his seasons in 2015 and 2016, and which Bryant says bothered him in 2017, although they didn't prevent him from playing all 16 games.
Despite his stated purpose of focusing on work, it's been enough that Bryant felt pushed to respond.
"Yeah, I take heat. And I'm not saying I don't deserve it. But at the same time, I've been grinding," he said. "I've been on that field hurt. I've got scars, I've got bruises on me just because of how much I love the game and how much I want to see the Dallas Cowboys win. I want these people to understand that."
Of course, it's chatter that got Bryant into this position in the first place. He said it himself back in December, and on Friday he repeated that outside distraction got the better of him in 2017.
Bryant's 69 catches and 838 yards were the lowest output of any season in which he has played all 16 games. He did not have a 100-yard game for the first time since 2011. His average of 12.1 yards per catch was the worst of his career.
Even more than that, though, was a litany of mental mistakes – such as wrong routes and dropped passes – which Bryant attributed to his own preoccupation with other issues.
"A lot of plays were left on that field because of me – me allowing my brain to be somewhere it shouldn't be," he said. "I should've been focused on football and just played football, and I promise that's what I'm going to do from here on out – regardless of whatever situation that I'm in. This is my job, this is what I love to do, it's all I want to do, it's all I care about."
More than anything else, that was probably the theme of the conversation – Bryant's insistence on returning to his old form. He talked briefly about his history with injuries, and he repeated that his relationship with Prescott was in a good place.
"I feel like I'm just going to work harder than I ever worked," he said. "I don't want to say too much about it, I don't want to film it, I don't want to show the world. I feel like I don't have to do that. It ain't for show. I just want to go to work. I don't want to hear anything – of course, things are going to be said. But if I can just separate myself from all the noise, I just want to dig deep. That's all I want to do."
It's smart of Bryant to understand that the talk will persist, whether he blocks it out or not. Strictly speaking, the offseason is only one month old. The new league year hasn't started and free agency hasn't opened. The Cowboys have a lot to decide about their finances and their future.
In December, Bryant was adamant that he had no intention of taking a pay cut. Asked about it on Friday, he was a bit more evasive.
"Like I said, that's a discussion for myself and my agent and the Jones Family," he said.
Clearly, it's a discussion that hasn't happened. Until it does, all anyone else can do is talk.
And while the rest of the world is talking, Bryant let it be known: he intends to be working.
"I just want to grind, I just want to work. That's all I want to do," he said. "Because I promise you, I'm going to shut a lot of people up."