FRISCO, Texas – It’s a weird feeling to see the collective attention of two different fan bases centered so squarely on the same news item, but that’s where we’re at right now.
To be sure, things will sort themselves out in due time. The Cowboys have a massive division matchup this weekend, and it’s a game their players are acknowledging as a must-win.
But still, after months of speculation, it’s not surprising to see the interest drawn by Dez Bryant’s decision to sign with the New Orleans Saints. People have been expecting to see the former Cowboy sign somewhere since he was released in April, and he’s been alluding to it himself since August. Finally, we don’t have to wonder about it any more.
As a New Orleans native who works for the Dallas Cowboys, I’ve got a unique perspective on the situation – and I’ve got to say it’s bizarre. Saints fans are excited to see what Dez can bring to their offense, and understandably so. But right alongside them are droves of Cowboys fans who want to see what this will look like.
How could you not? Not only is he one of the greatest receivers in franchise history, but he took plenty of heat for the Cowboys’ struggles in 2017. Right or wrong, people are going to have a lot to say if Bryant thrives in New Orleans while Dallas continues to struggle to throw the ball.
So that’s where I’m at in Week 10. There’s a lot riding on this Philly game, and I’ll get to that. But I can’t help but be intrigued by what’s going on with No. 88.
1. Sean Payton isn’t ruling out the possibility of playing Dez against the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend. That feels like a tall order for a guy who spent seven months away from football and just signed with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, but I’m not going to bet against it.
If he does play in Cincinnati, I have to assume it would be a limited role. And if he doesn’t play against the Bengals, then Bryant’s debut for New Orleans will come against the Philadelphia Eagles – how fitting is that?
Alright, but that’s not my point. What I’m trying to say is that, when we finally get around to seeing Dez play for the Saints, I want to know what it’ll actually look like. Dez built a reputation in this league as a dominant X receiver.
The problem is, the Saints already employ a dominant X receiver by the name of Michael Thomas. The guy is on pace for 140 receptions, 1,760 yards and 10 touchdowns. He remains one of the most criminally underrated players in the NFL, in my opinion.
So I’m just curious how the Saints plan to deploy both of these guys. Bryant isn’t a burner who’s going to take the top off a defense, which is the type of player the Saints have preferred to play opposite Thomas. Rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith has just 12 catches this season, but he’s averaging 18 yards per reception. Last year, Tedd Ginn averaged 15 yards per catch in the same role.
Can the Saints get production from Dez out of the slot? It’s something he did at times with the Cowboys – but not very often. Or will they simply change the expectation for their complementary receivers?
I think Dez has plenty of talent to make a difference in that offense, especially with Drew Brees throwing him the ball. But I am curious to see exactly how his skill set will fit.
2. As if we needed any more proof of the drawing power of the NFC East – and specifically the Dallas Cowboys – did you know this is the 10th straight year the Cowboys and Eagles have played on Sunday Night Football.
All due respect to Monday Night Football, but I think most of us would agree the Sunday night game has become the NFL’s showcase in the last decade or so. The fact that these two teams continue to draw that coveted time slot says a lot about how many people want to watch them.
3. Not that this should surprise anyone, but these games have been fantastic way more often than not. Going back over those nine other Sunday night games, the average margin of victory is just 10.2 points.
In that time span, six of these nine games have been decided by a touchdown or less. There have been two overtime games – one win for each team. There was the last-minute Eagles win in the 2013 season finale to clinch the NFC East.
Even the 2014 game, which the Cowboys won by 11 points, was dramatic, as Dan Bailey didn’t put things on ice until the final five minutes.
There have only been two outliers – and one of them came just last year. The Eagles’ 37-9 runaway at AT&T Stadium last year was the most lopsided game in this series going all the way back to 2008, when Philadelphia infamously crushed Dallas, 44-6, at the end of that season.
If history is any indicator, though, this one is going to be far more dramatic. It almost always is.
4. The game isn’t for a few more days, but I’m already sick of the Amari Cooper-Golden Tate comparisons.
I get it. Every aspect of football fandom, and a solid amount of football coverage, is about getting a leg up on your rivals. You want the Cowboys to beat the Eagles on the field, but you also want to do the better trade, draft the better player, make the smarter decisions.
That’s why the world was in such a hurry to bash the Cowboys for trading a first-round pick for Cooper after they saw the Eagles land Tate for a third.
I get it. Jokes are the best. They’re fun to make – especially if they’re coming at the expense of your rivals. But let’s chill.
From the very beginning, these aren’t identical deals. You can argue that the Cowboys overpaid a bit for Cooper, but they did so knowing what they were getting – a 24-year-old receiver with a long-term outlook in Dallas.
“In general, we believe we’re going to sign Amari to an extension,” said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones earlier this week. “That goes without saying. We feel like he was worth the No. 1, and I think part of making it worth it is that we eventually sign him to an extension.”
He’s going to be much more expensive than your average first-round pick, but that’s still basically what he is. He’s a young guy the Cowboys plan to build their receiver corps around for the next four or five years.
It’s theoretically possible the Eagles plan to extend Golden Tate in the offseason, but I tend to doubt it. Tate was brought in to bump a receiver corps that lost Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins to injury and doesn’t have a ton of other playmakers outside of Alshon Jeffery. He’s going to turn 31 before next season, and it’s pretty likely he’ll be able to command one more sizable contract this March.
My guess is that the Eagles will get what they can from Tate over these next eight games, and then they’ll take the eventual compensatory pick he nets them – probably a third or fourth-round pick in 2020.
These are vastly different mindsets, and they can both work. The Cowboys paid a higher price, and they’re hoping for a bigger, longer return on investment. The Eagles opted for a quick fix and a smaller risk factor.
Both players will make their teams better, and both players fit their employer’s end game. It’s tedious and tired to spend the next two months comparing their every move.
5. Being around the Dallas Cowboys, you get used to the spotlight. This is the most popular football team in the world, and it’s reflected in everything that goes on around here. We all know the Cowboys top the ratings, the jersey sales and everything in between. It’s nothing new.
But it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle the month of November, because the spotlight is going to be on them for a long time.
Starting with Monday’s loss to Tennessee, the Cowboys are slated to play five games in 25 days. Obviously, that’s a lot of football in not a lot of time – but it’s also a huge stage to be on. The loss to the Titans was on Monday Night Football, and the Cowboys still have three more nationally televised games in the coming weeks.
Sunday’s game is on Sunday Night Football, as we’ve already talked about. Then there’s the Thanksgiving game against Washington at AT&T Stadium. One week after that, the Cowboys welcome the Saints and Dez Bryant to Arlington for a Thursday Night Football showdown.
There’s a slight reprieve on Nov. 18, as the road trip to face Atlanta won’t be nationally televised. But the Cowboys are about to command the NFL’s attention for the better part of a month.
That can be a double-edged sword. If this team sorts out its offensive troubles and can stitch together a win streak, it’ll do so in front of a lot of eyeballs, potentially gaining a lot of respect in the process. But if the Cowboys continue to play like they did on Monday, I doubt they’re going to enjoy the spotlight so much.
6. Maybe I do better when I don’t write a column.
I took the bye week off from making dumb points, but I still managed to go 9-3 in my NFL picks last week. Of course, I got the Cowboys game wrong for the third week in a row, but you can’t win them all, I guess.
Anyway, I’m gradually making progress toward respectability. There’s not much room for error, but I feel confident I can make a late-season push.
STEELERS (-3.5) over Panthers
Lions (+6.5) over BEARS
BENGALS (-5.5) over Saints
Falcons (-4) over BROWNS
'Patriots (-6.5) over TITANS
Jaguars (+3) over COLTS
CHIEFS (-16.5) over Cardinals
JETS (-6.5) over Bills
Redskins (+3) over BUCCANEERS
Chargers (-9.5) over RAIDERS
Dolphins (+9.5) over PACKERS
RAMS (-9.5) over Seahawks
49ERS (-3) over Giants
LAST WEEK: 9-4
THIS SEASON: 49-64-5