OXNARD, Calif. – This time last summer, Dez Bryant might have been the hottest receiver in the NFL.
He had recently completed an All-Pro, 16-touchdown 2014 season, he had been in the center of a playoff officiating controversy and a hotly-contested contract dispute. He capped all of that off by signing a five-year, $70 million deal to remain with the Cowboys.
Fast-forward a year, and – as Michael Irvin himself pointed out – it's almost as if none of that ever happened. Coming off an injury-plagued 2015 campaign, Bryant seems to be an afterthought in the preseason discussion.
"Two years ago he was the best receiver in the league," Irvin said. "Now, he had a down year last year and nobody even mentions him. They're just talking about Julio Jones and Antonio Brown."
That's the nature of life in the NFL, as Irvin is surely aware. Everyone is always on to the next thing.
Given how much Irvin and Bryant have in common – passionate, record-setting, lightning rod receivers for the Dallas Cowboys – it's fitting that it would turn to a conversation about Bryant's legacy and his pecking order in the NFL landscape.
For his part, Bryant said he isn't bothered by the talk – or maybe the lack thereof – about his standing. If he returns to his prior level of play, that conversation should take care of itself. He said as much to Irvin during an interview on NFL Network on Wednesday evening.
"There's only one thing I've got to do, and that's go out there and be D – be me," he said. "I love Antonio Brown, I love Julio Jones, I love Odell Beckham – them guys are the top wide outs. I put myself up there with those guys as well, but it's not all about me sitting here talking – I'm just going to go out there and show them. That's something I'm real damn good at doing."
After a slow start to training camp, Bryant appears to be rounding into the form that saw him reel off an impressive 41 touchdowns from 2012-14. If he can carry that over to the regular season, he shouldn't be an afterthought for long.
"It lets you know that this thing is not forever – it's an everyday thing," Irvin said. "You've got to come back out here and prove to people again that you are one of the best in the league, and he's up to that challenge."