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Eatman: Reading Between the Lines, Dez Situation Now Getting Interesting

MOBILE, Ala. –There's no bigger storyline surrounding the Cowboys this offseason than the future of Dez Bryant.

To me, this is the one decision that will have a huge effect on others that are made regarding free agency and the draft. It might even play a factor in what the Cowboys do with the contract negotiations of both DeMarcus Lawrence and Zack Martin.

Because the Cowboys have to figure out if Dez Bryant is going to be on this team at all, and if so, will he remain at a current price tag that includes a $12.5 million base salary?

I've said it numerous times in the past couple of months, mainly on our podcast *Cowboys Break, *that there's no way Bryant will play next year at a cap charge of $16.5 million.

And now, after what Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones have said in the past 48 hours regarding Dez, I'm standing by those claims even more.

Just listening to Jerry speak on Tuesday from the Senior Bowl, it seems pretty obvious that there are decisions to be made regarding Dez. All you have to do is read between the lines in his answers – both with Dez and even other questions, such as the coaching staff – to realize that the Cowboys aren't fully committed to Dez, or at least his contract, for next year.

When asked if Gary Brown was coming back, Jones firmly told reporters Tuesday that he would return as running backs coach. While he didn't want to make a full announcement on safeties coach Greg Jackson, Jones also said he would be back on the staff. And while stopping short of telling us Kellen Moore would be hired as quarterbacks coach, Jones at least announced that an agreement has been reached with the former QB and Moore would indeed be on the staff next year.

Those were point-blank questions with rather point-blank answers.

But Jerry was also asked if Dez was coming back for the 2018 season.

"Well, everyone we've got under contract right now, and I'm not addressing anyone," Jones said, "but everyone we've got under contract and have years left on their contract, I expect to be with the team."

Now, without putting words in anyone's mouth, it's pretty clear that we've got a different answer there. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's not even February yet. There is no law that the Cowboys have to make these decisions right now.

But considering how important Dez Bryant has been to this team and offense for the past eight years, it does sound rather odd that his status is somewhat in question right now.

Let's actually dive into that answer a little more as to what Jerry was saying, or could be saying.

He does say that he expects Dez to be on the team because he's still under contract. Then again, he also pointed out earlier that former special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was under contract and they allowed him to take the Raiders job, although coaches and players contracts are always different because of the salary cap.

Still, just because someone is under contract doesn't mean a player will be on the team. You know that, and Dez Bryant does as well.

But maybe Jerry Jones really does expect Dez to be on the team. Maybe he just expects that a deal will be reached between the two sides and perhaps the wide receiver will either take a pay cut or another agreement that lowers his cap hit.

Stephen Jones said on Monday during the *Hangin' With the Boys *podcast that Dez's contract definitely plays a factor into having him back, and he even said it's something that has to be addressed.

"We pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He's aware of it as anybody when he talks to Jerry and myself," Stephen said. "He knows when you get paid that kind of money, there's high expectations in terms of the productivity. Those are all things that we have to look at as a team, as an organization, when we start to put our team together for next year."

Actually, that statement alone might be the most important one we've heard regarding this matter all offseason. Stephen basically just told us that Bryant's production vs. Bryant's salary is something that has to be looked at before they start to configure the roster.

It's not easy to figure out exactly what's going to happen, but it does sound as if the Cowboys will try to lower Dez's money in some form or fashion. Now, there's no guarantee that Dez will agree to it, especially since he said in December that he wouldn't take a pay cut. Maybe his stance will change if he's approached by the Cowboys later this offseason, especially if it's really late in the offseason when the opportunities to play elsewhere for big bucks starts to decrease.

As Bill Parcells used to say, there's "a lot of moving parts" on this one.

Personally, I would like to see Dez Bryant return if they can figure out a way to lower his deal or make it somewhat incentive-based. I do think he's a talented player, and maybe just having a different teacher in new wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal might be exactly what he needs.

But I also understand that you can't have Dez Bryant ranking 24th in the NFL in catches (69), 28th in the league in receiving yards (838) and 25th in touchdown catches (six), yet his $16.5 million cap charge ranks third, just barely behind Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald.

Something has to give, although it's a little early to see exactly what that will be.

If one thing is clear about this situation, it's that it remains very unclear here in late January.

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