FRISCO, Texas – What has been speculated for months is now reality: the Dallas Cowboys have released Dez Bryant.
The Cowboys released Bryant on Friday, moving on from one of the most successful receivers in the franchise's history.
Speculation about Bryant has surrounded the Cowboys since the end of the 2017 season, when it was first suggested that the former All-Pro might need to take a pay cut in the coming year. Prior to his release, he was set to make $12.5 million in 2018 and count $16.5 million against salary cap.
That all stems back to the five-year, $70 million contract he signed in the summer of 2015, which he had struggled to live up to in recent seasons.
The Cowboys were obviously willing to part ways with their mercurial star receiver – but they hadn't been willing to say much about it. Both Jerry and Stephen Jones were asked about the situation last month at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, and neither was willing to elaborate much.
"That's one of the things that we're going to have to work through as we move into our future," said Stephen Jones.
Clearly, the front office came to a consensus about what worked best for them. Releasing Bryant frees up an estimated $8 million in salary cap space, giving them more room to maneuver in free agency.
Steps have already been taken to account for Bryant's absence. The Cowboys signed Allen Hurns to a two-year, $12 million contract on March 23. They also signed veteran wide out Deonte Thompson, presumably to offset the loss of Brice Butler.
Those additions made it evidently clear that the Cowboys intended to move on from Bryant – and now there can be no doubt.
As well as Hurns may help replace Bryant, there's still no denying that this is the end of an era for the Cowboys. From the time he was drafted No. 24 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, Dez Bryant hasn't been so much the face of the franchise as the soul.
A Lufkin, Texas native, Bryant became a dynamic cornerstone player embedded with the Cowboys brand, his "X" touchdown celebration synonymous with the Cowboys star.
The Cowboys' first-round pick in 2010 made three Pro Bowls over eight seasons, including an All-Pro selection in 2014 with a career-best 16 receiving touchdowns.
Along with his impressive statistics, Bryant has been marked by his fiery demeanor and his passion for the game. That fire sparked him to 531 career receptions for 7,459 total yards, plus a franchise-record 73 receiving touchdowns.
That demeanor also landed him in hot water from time to time. Just as common as Bryant's jaw-dropping highlights during his eight-year career were discussions about his spirited behavior, which occasionally boiled over on the Cowboys' sidelines.
"It's certainly visible to anyone who watches our games," Stephen Jones said. "Dez is certainly a fiery guy who plays with a lot of emotion both on and off the field. Sometimes, that can be a distraction."
In December, Bryant said he let outside criticism distract him at times. He also said he practiced and played through knee tendinitis during the season.
Speaking in February on local radio station 105.3 FM The Fan, Bryant strongly stated his preference was to stay in Dallas.
"At the end of the day, I just want to win," he said. "I want to play football. I want to wear the star. I want to be a part of that Super Bowl because I feel like it can happen."
That's not the only thing Bryant has said on his own behalf. In December, he told reporters he had no interest in taking a pay cut on his $12 million salary.
During that February interview on 105.3 FM, however, he said that his contract was a matter he'd discuss privately with his agent and the Jones Family.
Bryant also made sure to bet on himself, as the 29-year-old insisted he intends to get back to his Pro Bowl ways in 2018.
"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."
He will likely still have that opportunity. Bryant doesn't turn 30 until November, and he has posted seasons of 796 yards and eight touchdowns, as well as 838 yards and six touchdowns in the last two years.
Even if that's not up to the level of his three seasons of 1,200-plus yards from 2012-14, it ranks him as one of the more attractive free agent receivers of this offseason – and should certainly be enough to land him a contract with another team.
As for the Cowboys, they'll move forward with a younger wide receiver corps. Hurns steps into the top receiver job at just 26 years old, and it seems like a good bet the team might make receiver a priority in next month's NFL draft.
However they might choose to play it, the Cowboys aren't speculating any longer – they are in fact moving forward without Dez Bryant.
(Senior writer Rob Phillips contributed to this report.)