By Mike Fisher
FRISCO (105.3 The Fan) – Dez Bryant recently told me, “I believe in the people in this locker room, in the people in this building, and in the Dallas Cowboys. We’re not giving up.’’
Here’s hoping he’s talking about the Cowboys Cap-Number Crunchers, too — because “The Contractual Future Of Dez Bryant’’ is so less confounding than most in Cowboys Nation are making it out to be.
The Dallas Morning News is actually on-record as predicting Bryant — a prominent leader in the locker room and the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions — has played his last game as a Cowboy. Team COO Stephen Jones has made noise about change. No. 88 icon Drew Pearson has gone public to state that this No. 88 (Dez) should take a pay cut. No. 88 icon Michael Irvin has gone public in support of keeping Bryant. Dez himself has taken to posting cryptic messages on social media.
Cowboys Nation – Calm yourself.
It was exactly 375 days ago when Bryant opposed the Packers in a playoff game at AT&T Stadium. In that game, Dez Bryant had nine receptions on 12 targets for 132 yards and two TDs.
It was exactly 34 days before Stephen’s incendiary remarks about Dez’ “lot of money” and his “productivity” when a high-profile guest made an appearance on “G-Bag Nation” on 105.3 The Fan.
The subject? Dez Bryant’s alleged “decline.”
Said the high-profile guest on Dec. 21, 2017: “I don’t think Dez has lost anything and it’s a matter of executing with a different quarterback. There’s been this time where they get to know each other but they have made some really great plays along the way.” The guest? COO Stephen Jones. So, no, Dez hasn’t lost “it.’’ Moreover, the “cut Dez’’ or “cut Dez’ salary’’ is misguided.
There are solutions here. Among them on one end of the spectrum, is to simply not bother with Dez’ contract this year. He signed his five-year, $70 million deal after the 2014 season and the $45 mil guarantee is all paid. The Cowboys could ride out the penultimate year and could conceivably do the same after that. They could avoid making a non-volatile situation (not counting the “distraction” talk that features a word the Joneses never, ever used to describe Dez until this week) into a volatile one. Basically, 2018 could be the “prove-it” year.
At the other end of the spectrum? They could cut him. Advocates of this notion remind us that Dallas once cut DeMarcus Ware, and if it can happen to him … But wait. What about nearer the center of the spectrum, the reasonable center, for if you cut Dez Bryant you end up with some cap room, but some dead money, too … and no potential Pro Bowl receiver?
Crunch those numbers for a moment: Bryant is scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2018, with a $16.5-million cap figure. The Cowboys can release him between now and June 1 and save $8 million. … but have the other $8.5 mil as dead money … and have no Bryant-level receiver. (An argument for another day: Couldn’t Dallas replace Dez with Miami free agent Jarvis Landry and pay him the $8 mil? Well, no, given the fact that Landry is asking for $11 mil a year and that if the Dolphins can’t quite get there, they can tag him at $14 mil.)
Now, the Cowboys can designate Bryant a post-June 1 cut. With that move, they save $12 million in room and he will count $4 million against the 2019 cap. But again, they’d have no receiver … and on top of that, by NFL design, the post-June 1 move leaves a team with cap room but no huge way to spend it because the free-agent-shopping season will have come and gone.
So what to do? Enlist the help of pal KD Drummond. Crunch some more numbers. Take out your No. 2 pencils. And run it all by two NFL team cap experts.
Bryant’s current cap hit is $16.5 million for 2018, and he has an identical hit for 2019 as well. In each year, $12.5 million is base salary and the remaining $4 million is the allocation from his original $20-million signing bonus, split evenly across his five-year extension signed heading into 2015.
Dallas can simply add a voidable year to his deal, and then restructure his 2018 base salary. The club could reduce Bryant’s base salary down to the vet minimum for his tenure, $915,000. They then spread that $11.585-million restructure across 2018, 2019 and what we will call “the phantom year” of 2020 at the hit of $3.86 million.
Using this method, instead of $16.5 million, Bryant’s cap hit is now $8.77 million ($915,000 base + $3.86 million restructure + original $4 million signing bonus). He’d have an additional $3.86 million in cap hit in 2019 (even if released next season) and would have $3.86 million of dead money in 2020.
And his 2018 salary would be exactly as it is now, $12.5 mil. It provides Dallas with cap relief now, and provides Bryant with more leverage in 2019 thanks to increasing the amount of dead money on the card were they to release him. … so they likely would not … and he makes $12.5 mil again in 2019.
The third year doesn’t really exist. The next two years do. And Dez still gets his $12.5 million + $12.5 million. It looks different on the books … but the same in his wallet.
There is no “kicking the can.’’ There is no dead money pushed forward. There is no penalty. It’s all legal: Dez keeps making $12.5 mil by simply letting Dallas move his payments from entering his left pants pocket to entering his right pants pocket.
There are other alternatives. But this one is easy and clean. Dez Bryant keeps his salary and the Cowboys GAIN room. I will also note that the Cowboys cap-crunchers are well-aware of this path.
And now — in a way that makes you the smartest Cowboys fan on your block — so do you.