IRVING, Texas – There's a flip side to the Dez Bryant contract conversation, and it has manifested itself on the Cowboys' sideline a few times in recent memory.
For every circus catch and game-changing touchdown, there's no denying Bryant's also garnered plenty of attention for situations that arise off the field. When he first arrived in Dallas, those situations arose in the form of legal issues.
He has curtailed those, but Bryant's flashpoint status has shown up in other ways – his arguments with teammates in Detroit last season, and his disappearance from the field following the loss to Green Bay, namely.
Bryant's passionate approach isn't anything new – in fact it goes back further than some might think. One of his newest teammates, Brandon Weeden, is also one of his oldest, as the two began their careers at Oklahoma State together in 2007.
"I said it when we came in the same year, the guy is probably the most passionate football player – he loves the game more than anyone I've ever been around," Weeden said. "He loves to catch footballs. You could throw him footballs for 24 hours and the guy would never get tired. He hasn't changed in that sense."
That's not a surprising development for anybody in the Cowboys' locker room, despite the boundless discussions about Bryant's maturity outside of it. Some might have reservations about paying a lucrative contract to a hot-headed wideout, though Bryant did have some measure of vindication when video revealed that last season's posturing in Detroit was of the more motivational variety.
"I've always been a team guy, I always will be. Like I said, it might look crazy but it's more motivational speaking," he said. "That's what I do. I'm a totally different player when I'm on the field."
That doesn't seem likely to change, regardless of Bryant's contract status. If anything, though, Weeden said Bryant has matured considerably since he played for the Big 12's version of the Cowboys as an 18-year-old phenom.
"I could tell from the first day I came in the locker room six or seven weeks ago that he had grown up a little bit. He's making good decisions off the field and doing the right things," Weeden said.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has been steady with the praise, as well. Garrett shared a story Monday about Bryant putting in extra work catching balls in practice. That was one thing, but Garrett took it one step further – and in surprising fashion.
Ever-reluctant to compare players, Garrett likened Bryant's leadership and approach to one of the Cowboys' all-time greats.
"He's really demonstrated some leadership qualities," Garrett said. "I have a great fondness for Michael Irvin. I had the good fortune of playing with Michael for eight years. Michael Irvin set the pace and the tempo for our team all throughout the 90s. He worked harder than anybody else. And Dez Bryant has a lot of those same traits. If you get a chance, watch Dez in one-on-ones, watch him in routes on air, watch him warm up. He just does it the right way."
Bryant is bound to draw comparisons to the Cowboys' last great No. 88 no matter what, but to hear them from the Cowboys' coach and Irvin's teammate seems telling.
For his part, Bryant has maintained his desire to work hard and play wait-and-see with his contract. This will be the final season of his rookie contract, and he's slated to make roughly $1.78 million. Despite that low number, however, Bryant made a telling statement of his own Monday at his locker.
With plenty of precedent for contract holdouts – especially for what many would consider a loudmouth receiver – don't expect to see it. Bryant's just here to play football.
"To be honest – really, I'm not just talking – I really do let that stuff take care of itself, because I care about this game," he said. "I'm not going to be out here sitting out and doing all that crazy stuff. I'm just going to play football. If it's deserving, it will come."