IRVING, Texas – OK, one of two things is happening with Cowboys mercurial wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Either he is about to show us he's growing up.
Or … he is leaving himself susceptible to growing out of control.
And the Dallas Cowboys are stuck in the middle, trying to mediate this growing dilemma with themselves, struggling between investing in one of the league's most talented receivers for the future, a financially profitable salary cap solution for both sides, or continuing to take this wait-and-see approach with the franchise tag, buying themselves some time for evidence to arise while totally frustrating the other side.
To me, that's what is going on with the recent revelation of Dez Bryant breaking off from what has been the safe-house cocoon of confidant David Wells, along with having switched agents from Eugene Parker to Tom Condon, placing himself under the marketing umbrella of Roc Nation.
Recall the back story. Three games into his junior season at Oklahoma State, the NCAA suspends him for the rest of the season, accusing him of trying to cover up his relationship with Deion Sanders, portrayed as a recruiting agent for Parker. Dez leaves school. Dez has no place to live. Michael Crabtree introduces him to Wells, who takes him in, gives him a home to live in long before he ever became the Cowboys' first-round pick in 2010.
This became a father-son-like relationship that grew stronger after Dallas made Dez the 24th pick of that draft, sort of afforded him the protection, roof and advice of the family Dez never had growing up and a guy who helped the Cowboys deflect Dez from off-field problems.
But times have changed. Dez no longer is that 21-year-old kid floating in no-man's land. He is 26, going on 27. He has five years of NFL experience. He has earned the right to make more money this coming season than his first five years combined in the NFL. He has made a name for himself. Has become a good teammate, and to the naked eye a responsible citizen, if only suffering a few blips on the radar.
It's almost as if Dez is saying, thanks, but I got this.
And with that, Dez Bryant is about to face life's man coverage, as if outgrowing that nurturing zone that has guided him through some murky waters to this point. It seems as though this is going to be all on him now.
Is he ready?
How many of us were ready?
See, to me, this is like breaking away from your family, whenever that point occurred. Getting your own place. Going away to college. Getting married. And if you've ever been a parent, you held your breath at that point in time, didn't you, to the extent of turning blue in the face with concern. Unlike birds, most of us don't kick our young out of the nest.
Gosh, as if yesterday I remember my parents that first time driving their 18-year-old five hours away to college. My mom didn't want to leave. Kept lingering around that day. Sure, partly because she was going to miss her son. Mostly because she was worried to death how I'd do on my own, and goodness knows with good reason. I didn't understand then. I do now, especially after dropping one of your own off at college that first time.
Well, here goes Dez. He's about to be on his own, apparently leaving Wells' protective nest.
Now Condon is a fine agent. A tough agent. And I'm sure Roc Nation will do its best to help Dez market himself under a broader arm.
But as Wells would say to me, "Roc Nation don't live here."
And therein lies the concern. Dez is truly going to be on his own, and it's obvious Roc Nation is wanting Dez to divorce himself from that prior zone coverage, the likes of Wells, state senator Royce West, and my guess is, even the protective arms of the Cowboys, who remember helped craft those "Dez Rules" to ensure the best they could, and arguably with good results, that he stay on the straight and narrow when few previously in his life were there to provide the necessary discipline we all needed at a young age.
Hopefully they are helping, and aren't trying to take advantage of him, that the potential dollar signs aren't their primary concern.
We'll see, won't we?
And that brings us back again to the Cowboys. I think, and always have thought, that the team wanted to see, too. My belief has been that the Cowboys were overly concerned about handing Dez Bryant a boatload of guaranteed money that a man of his talent and caliber of play should command. Just leery of handing him the majority of that money, to the tune of what likely would be somewhere in the range of a $30 million signing bonus – all at once.
Oh, he's worth it, but how well would he value his worth?
That's why they are willing to let him play for the $12.8 million guaranteed franchise tag that is paid in 1/17th increments – meaning weekly, not all at once – and in total, that's not chicken fee. Sort of like when you give your kids an allowance, right? Say it's, and sorry, I'm out of touch what the going rate is these days, $25 a week. You don't give them the $100 the beginning of the month, do you, even if you have it? And how come?
That, I believe, is the Cowboys' concern, still trying to be protective of their investment and of Dez the best they can. And it is costing them against the cap to do so, since a long-term deal would reduce his cap charge at least in half, if not more, but not as much as a long-term deal gone bad would cost.
Thus the on-going contract-negotiation stalemate.
Now, Monday the Cowboys will officially open their strength and conditioning program, even though for the past couple of weeks as many as 50 cars could be seen mornings in the players' parking lot, guys voluntarily getting a jumpstart on their work. My guess is, since Dez hasn't signed his franchise tender, meaning he is not under contract, he won't be here. And attending OTAs that begin in about a month likely will be out of the question, that minor withholding of services the only real leverage a franchised player has in on-going negotiations for a long-term deal that has a July 15 deadline. After that, you're tagged, that is if you choose to play for the guaranteed amount. If not, you can sit and turn your nose up on a guaranteed, say, 12.8 million bucks.
Nothing personal on either side mind you, as they say.
Just man-to-man competitive business, with the maturing growth of Dez about to be measured.