By: Jake Leicht
Dez Bryant was at one time one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. Over a three year stretch from the 2012 to 2014 NFL seasons, Dez Bryant accumulated 3,935 yards receiving, 232 catches, and 41 touchdowns. He was an absolute terror in the red zone for opposing defenses, and defensive coordinators were forced to game plan heavily for Bryant’s skill set.
Over his next three seasons from 2015 to 2017, Bryant’s stats took a horrific tumble. Bryant only attained 2,035 yards, 150 catches, and 17 touchdowns over that stretch, a major drop from his 2012 to 2014 numbers. There are a few reasons that Dez has fallen off over the past three seasons. In 2015, he only played 9 games due to a broken bone in his foot. After that season, Tony Romo retired. Although Romo took a lot of heat for his inability to take the Cowboys deep into the playoffs during his tenure with the Cowboys, he did have a great rapport with Bryant. The Cowboys went on to draft Dak Prescott in the 4th round of the 2016 draft, and Dez was never the same in terms of production. Dak has a very bright future in the NFL, but he has simply been unable to get the ball to Bryant like Tony Romo did. In addition to Prescott, the Cowboys also drafted bell cow running back Zeke Elliott with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 Draft and molded the offense around him. This not only helped take the load of the rookie Prescott’s shoulders, but it also helped the Cowboys go 13–3 during the 2016 regular season. The only person who was negatively affected by all of this was Dez Bryant.
Does Bryant still have some gas left in the tank? I think he does. I don’t think Bryant can have a three year stretch where he is as dominant as he was from 2012 to 2014, but he can certainly bring something to a team in need of receiving help. Let’s take a look at a few teams that could make a move on Dez in the coming days due to their lack of receiving options and salary cap situation.
1. Indianapolis Colts (Cap Space: $59 Million)
The Indianapolis Colts are in the midst of a substantial rebuild. Last season the Colts went 4–12, but were without star quarterback Andrew Luck the entire time. Without Luck, the offensive was just not as explosive. The Colts’ receivers are not very good at the moment even if Andrew Luck is deemed healthy enough to play all of next season. Yes, the Colts have a Pro Bowl caliber receiver in T.Y. Hilton, but he definitely has his limitations in the red zone. The Colts were forced to use Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, and Kamar Aiken in prominent receiving roles last season. None of those players had over 26 catches or over 2 touchdowns. The team let Moncrief, the most talented albeit underperforming receiver of the bunch, walk to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency this offseason. The Colts responded by signing receiver Ryan Grant from the Redskins, but he doesn’t necessarily make the receiving core exponentially better. Adding a talented red zone threat like Dez Bryant makes a ton of sense for the Colts. Luck could utilize Dez’s skill set, and the receiver’s talents complement T.Y. Hilton’s abilities perfectly. Bryant would immediately give the team a true outside receiving target that would open up the middle of the field for tight end Jack Doyle and T.Y. to go to work. Not only do the Colts make sense in terms of a fit on the field, but they also have the salary cap space to make an offer that could tempt Dez Bryant to head to Indianapolis next season.
2. Baltimore Ravens (Cap Space: $10 Million)
The Ravens are another team that could use a shot in the arm on offense. They were tough to watch in passing situations last season, relying on Mike Wallace to be their #1 receiver last year. That is definitely not the recipe for success. Baltimore responded by signing Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency this year, and while Brown has shown potential in the past, he has been unable to stay healthy over the last couple of seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. Crabtree is certainly on the back nine of his career as well. To make matters worse, QB Joe Flacco has been steadily going downhill in terms of skills since winning the Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012. The one thing that Flacco can still do is utilize his arm strength and push the ball down the field to streaking receivers. Although Dez Bryant is no longer the vertical threat that he once was, he can still go up and high point the ball against the best cornerbacks in the league. Flacco to Dez Bryant makes a lot of sense. When you add on the fact that the Ravens always seem to be making a play for free agent wide receiver on a yearly basis, Dez Bryant is certainly plausible. Add on the fact that Ozzie Newsome is a great mentor for players who have similar on-field antics as Bryant, and this seems to be a great fit for both sides.f
3. San Francisco 49ers (Cap Space: $40 Million)
Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius. After taking over the lackluster San Francisco 49ers last offseason, Shanahan was able to take mediocre talent and make it one of the best offensive units in the league over the second half of the season. Once the 49ers deployed Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback over the last five weeks of the season, they went 5–0 and averaged almost 30 points per game. The 49ers did this while throwing to wide receivers such as Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, and Trent Taylor. Goodwin is a solid receiver, but he is not a number one option in this league. The 49ers also didn’t add to the receiving corps in any substantial way this offseason. Adding Dez Bryant to the group would actually do more for the 49ers than the average fan may think. Bryant would certainly come in and lead the 49ers in both red zone targets and receiving touchdowns, considering their top TD pass catcher last season was Garrett Celek with 4. Kyle Shanahan would certainly be able to tailor around Bryant’s skill set more so than almost any other head coach in the league. This move would also keep Dez in the NFC where he is accustomed to the defenses and schemes, plus San Francisco plays Dallas in the first preseason game. All of these factors, as well as the 49ers still having a ton of cap space, is why they are threats to add Dez Bryant.
4. New York Jets (Cap Space: $23 Million)
Even though the Jets finished with the sixth worst record in the NFL last season, many NFL experts believe the team actually overachieved. Before the season, some Las Vegas sports books had the over/under amount of wins for the Jets to be 2.5, but they actually won 5 games in 2017 despite having a lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Although Josh McCown performed admirably last season, the Jets are poised to select a rookie quarterback after trading up with the Colts to obtain the #3 pick in the draft this month. The Jets need to surround this young quarterback (or possibly McCown for one year) with talent if they want him to be successful. Robby Anderson is a very talented young receiver, but he may be facing some disciplinary issues after his eventful offseason with the law. Jermaine Kearse is also underrated given his production. The Jets could easily add Dez Bryant to the mix given their salary cap situation, and they would immediately give their starting quarterback, whomever it may be, another weapon on offense. Bryant would thrive in the New York spotlight, and he would immediately give the fan base a star to cheer for even while not being the player he once was. This situation just seems like the type of signing that the Jets would make in the past simply to create a splash in the Big Apple. The thing is, Bryant would add some experience to the receiving corps while not taking away too many targets from Kearse or Anderson (if the latter isn’t suspended). Would the Jets want to force Bryant on a new first round pick at the quarterback position? That is the one major concern I have in projecting Dez to the Jets.
5. Washington Redskins (Cap Space: $17 Million)
If Dez signed with the Redskins, it would give him the opportunity to play the Cowboys two times a year for the foreseeable future. Upon leaving the Cowboy’s facility today, reporters noted that Dez kept saying that he would see the Dallas Cowboys two times a year. Those are some very strong words. Given Daniel Snyder’s reputation for trying to make big moves via free agency this could be a match made in heaven for both Dez Bryant and the Washington Redskins. Although I do not think the fit on the field is nearly as strong as the other four listed teams above, I do think the Redskins could fit Bryant into Jay Gruden’s scheme this upcoming season. Josh Doctson showed some flashes last season that could make the Redskins think twice about adding another red-zone threat like Dez, but having two playmakers that are similar is not necessarily a bad thing. Jamison Crowder does a great job of working the middle of the field and underneath routes for the team, so he would not be affected by the Redskins signing Bryant. The team already signed Paul Richardson this offseason, so they aren’t dying to add talent to the wide receiving corps, but if Dez is itching to play Dallas twice a year, the Redskins could look at this as an opportunity to stick it to Dallas. A wide receiving group of Crowder, Doctson, Richardson, and Bryant would be very productive under Alex Smith next year.