IRVING, Texas –Cross off the July 15 deadline. Throw out the franchise tag. Throw up the "X" instead.
Dez Bryant will be a Cowboy for years to come.
Bryant and the Cowboys finalized a five-year contract on Wednesday afternoon, just prior to the NFL's July 15 deadline to sign players designated with the franchise tag. The Cowboys have not disclosed terms, but numerous reports cite the deal to be worth roughly $70 million with $45 million in guarantees, including a $20 million signing bonus.
Without a new contract by the deadline, Bryant would've been forced to play the 2015 season under the one-year, $12.8 million franchise tag that represents the average of the NFL's five highest wide receiver salaries.
Bryant's signing concluded a long, protracted negotiation spanning several months. Multiple times, a deal appeared close but wasn't completed.
Talks quieted in the spring, and without a signed franchise-tag tender, Bryant chose to skip the team's voluntary offseason program and organized team activities. He stopped by Valley Ranch periodically to work out or visit with players and staff, and he participated in individual drills during one of the nine OTAs.
On the final day of the team's mandatory minicamp, Bryant – who wasn't required to show up because he wasn't under contract – watched practice and had a long discussion on the AT&T Stadium sideline with team owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
Despite the apparent goodwill on both sides, there were potential trouble signs: reports in mid-June and a declaration from Bryant's Twitter account Monday that he'd be willing to hold out if the sides couldn't strike a deal by Wednesday's deadline.
With a final push between the Cowboys' front office and Bryant's representatives, the deal got done. Bryant arrived at Valley Ranch well ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline to sign the contract.
"I smiled the whole way over here," Bryant told DallasCowboys.com.
Bryant certainly has earned it. The 24th pick in the 2010 draft, he's become the emotional leader of a playoff roster and a perennial All-Pro at his position. In 2014 he set a single-season club record with 16 touchdown catches and topped 1,000 yards (1,320) for the third time in his five-year career.
In 75 career games, Bryant ranks seventh in team history with 381 catches and 56 touchdowns, and in 2015 he conceivably could move as high as third all-time in catches behind only Jason Witten (943) and Michael Irvin (750). Drew Pearson, currently in third place, has 489.
Bryant led the Cowboys last season with 88 catches and nearly had one of the most memorable in team history in the final minutes of the team's Divisional Round playoff loss to Green Bay. With the Cowboys trailing 26-20 on fourth down, officials concluded Bryant did not maintain full possession throughout the process as he stretched for the goal line.[embeddedad0]
Though technically ruled incomplete, the infamous play has actually grown Bryant's legend, with #DezCaughtIt still a trendy social media hashtag from heartbroken Cowboys fans months later.
One hurdle in the contract negotiations was the financial gap between the two highest-paid receivers, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, and the rest of the league. Several other top wideouts – Atlanta's Julio Jones, Cincinnati's A.J. Green, and Denver's Demaryius Thomas, who also signed Wednesday – have been in line for long-term deals, but no one had reset the market for the position.
"We know Dez well, and as well as we know him, you see the kind of commitment that we've made here," Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones said. "That says everything about what we feel about him on and off the field."