ARLINGTON, TX– The Cowboys had a surprise visitor at their final minicamp practice Thursday: franchised receiver Dez Bryant, despite no resolution to his contract negotiations yet.
A week after reports surfaced that Bryant might consider sitting out the regular-season opener if he doesn't sign a long-term deal before the July 15 negotiating deadline – and a day after Bryant took to Twitter to reiterate his desire for long-term financial security – the All-Pro wideout rejoined his teammates to watch practice at AT&T Stadium.
"Great to have him here," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Dez obviously hasn't signed his franchise deal yet, so he's not practicing. He's dropped in really throughout the offseason program.
"Dez is preparing himself to play football and there's a business side of the NFL that's real. It's real for our team. It's real for every team in this league. I know Dez. I know his mindset. I know his mentality. I know he's working hard and hopefully we can get the business stuff resolved and he'll get back to playing football."
Thursday marked the Cowboys' final workout before training camp begins in late July in Oxnard, Calif. Bryant has mostly worked out on his own during the voluntary offseason program and technically wasn't required to attend this week's mandatory minicamp because he's not under contract until he signs his one-year $12.8 million franchise tag tender or works out a long-term deal before July 15.
Wearing a black T-shirt and shorts, Bryant was in the stands watching a video on the giant board with the team before practice. He spent a few minutes chatting with quarterback Tony Romo during warmups, and he split time watching drills and playing some light catch on the sideline.
And perhaps the most notable observation, given their ongoing contract negotiations, was Bryant and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones' 15-minute conversation during practice. They shook hands afterward. Neither were available for comment.
Tuesday, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones reiterated the team's desire to re-sign Bryant long term but cited a wide financial gap in the league's current receiver market that has to be bridged. Wednesday, Jerry Jones said he fully expects Bryant to be "leading the way" when team opens the season Sept. 13 at home against the Giants – whether he's still under the franchise tag or not.[embeddedad0]
That remains to be seen. But Bryant's presence Thursday, though not in uniform, further thickened the plot.
It was also a boost for his teammates.
"It says a lot about who he is," tight end Jason Witten said. "We're going into a long break (before training camp) and Dez is here, letting everybody know his mentality and how excited he is for our team."
Bryant has stopped by Valley Ranch periodically during the offseason. He met first-round pick Byron Jones during draft weekend and went through individual drills during one of the team's nine voluntary OTA workouts.
And he was there Thursday, the final time the team will be together until the plane boards for Oxnard in several weeks.
"I think it's another example how committed he is to the guys on the team. This is hard on him," wide receivers coach Derek Dooley said. "I wish everyone knew Dez the way I know him. He's got a genuine heart and he's got such a commitment to the players in that locker room, to the team.
"I've seen it for 33 Sundays. I've seen it every day when he's here and it's not Sunday. I'm just looking forward to getting him back. I know he's looking forward to getting back."