Taylor Williams

Giving Dez Bryant His Due

Jul. 19, 2014 5:00 AM EST

To an even greater extent than in 2013, the Dallas Cowboys will need their offense to carry the team this year. Which means two things for WR Dez Bryant: he’s basically obligated to have a monster year, and he should be paid accordingly.

In theory, the first part seems more than feasible. The Cowboys, in all fairness, have never shirked on their passing game. New passing-game coordinator Scott Linehan brings Xs and Os once tailored for Calvin Johnson to the aerial attack. The offensive line looks stout with three recent first-round picks. Tony Romo’s back problems seem to be a non-issue, and the up-and-coming Terrance Williams has proven a competent No. 2 receiver to balance the load.

The second part has been pure shadowboxing. Now in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, Bryant has averaged $2.36 million over the last four years, while averaging 73 receptions, 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns per year. You could find numbers more telling than those basics, but you don’t need to. Bryant’s new contract should absolutely be long-term, and it drawn up and signed before September.

Former agent Joel Corry recently valued it as tantamount, if not greater, to the five-year, $60 million deal given by the Miami Dolphins to WR Mike Wallace. That contract also included $30 million guaranteed, for an equally young and vertically-gifted receiver who ranks slightly below Bryant. By way of additional comparison, Johnson – generally heralded as the league’s best and not bound by wage scales of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement – makes about $16 million per year.

Rebuttals? The Cowboys could save money by delaying Bryant’s extension, possibly adding some defensive help. Then there’s the perception of Bryant as a wild card — a player with a checkered past off the field that’s given way to a reckless presence on the field.

I don’t buy either of them.

For the next 16 games, it’s on the coaches – not the front office – to mold the defense into a capable unit. If Bryant looks wildly unrestrained in sideline shots after a tough play, call or loss, it’s because he plays with such obvious drive, intensity and fervor for the win. To the point of not letting the contract issue interfere with his preparation, as he recently told The Dallas Morning News.

Most people, star football players or not, are still working to grow and mature as individuals throughout their early 20s. Bryant is no different, other than the fact that he’s been unquestionably successful at it. Wild card is one thing, but liability he is not.

From the very beginning, Bryant has been a rock — a crucial position-filler in a pass-friendly scheme that coaches rarely have to worry about. He’s seldom hurt. He’s become a leader with his fiery presence. He’s an exceptional physical talent; his strength in man coverage and in red-zone flares and corners never flags. His route running is sharp in shallow crosses and quick slants as it is to post routes and mid-range sideline patterns. His hands are good enough to intercept, not just defend, opponents’ Hail Mary’s. Bryant is, in every sense of the term, the complete package. And that has little to do with whatever system he’s currently in.

Bryant deserves his payday, even if Jerry Jones is in no hurry to grant it. Because whether or not they, or anyone else, chooses to acknowledge it, the Cowboys need him more than he needs them.