A month ago, a Dez Bryant-Cleveland Browns union made more sense.
Bryant needed a team, and presumably he can still be an effective receiver, even if he’s not at the Pro Bowl level he was a few years ago. Even though the Browns have upgraded the roster, they still need good players and Bryant still is good.
Will Dez Bryant sign with the Browns on Thursday?
If everything goes well, the former Dallas Cowboys star signs with the Browns on Thursday night. Given how the entire saga has been drawn out that’s no sure thing, but let’s say it happens quickly.
Even if Bryant signed at the end of his visit, Cleveland’s second preseason game is Friday. Bryant wouldn’t pay in that. He’d be very unlikely to play in the third preseason game next Thursday, after a few practices. Veterans don’t usually play in the fourth preseason game, though it’s possible Bryant could get some snaps with backups just to get back on the field.
So even if Bryant signs ASAP, there’s still a reasonable scenario in which he doesn’t play at all in the preseason. That’s far from ideal for a player with a new team.
Bryant will be behind when he starts
Whatever Bryant’s reason for waiting so long to sign — whether to get fully healthy, or scout the Browns’ first preseason game or the reason only Bryant would know — it means he’s unlikely to be entirely up to speed by Week 1. Even for a veteran with Bryant’s talent and experience, it’s a big ask to sign on Aug. 16 (or later) and be at full speed physically and mentally on Sept. 9.
Bryant wasn’t in Browns camp over the offseason learning Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s scheme or building chemistry with his teammates. He probably was working out, but players say nothing can replicate practicing and playing, especially against fellow NFL talent.
It could be a few weeks into the regular season before Bryant seems comfortable, like the player he was last season (not the player he was in 2012-14, it’s unrealistic to think he’ll reach that level again). He presumably will be on a one-year contract, because it has been widely reported that’s what he wants. Is that a good deal for the Browns?
Does the Bryant-Browns fit make much sense anymore?
The Browns have other considerations. They have a couple of interesting young pass catchers: rookie receiver Antonio Callaway and second-year tight end David Njoku. For a team that’s trying to build, you’d hate to take targets from them at the expense of feeding Bryant, who will be 30 years old by the end of the season. The Browns also have Jarvis Landry, who they invested in, and they do seem to think Josh Gordon will return at some point.
There’s also the issue of if Bryant will be good for a young locker room. Cleveland.com said Browns GM John Dorsey “likes the fiery Bryant, and views him as a competitive, passionate player,” and that’s reasonable. It’s true that Bryant is often misunderstood, and a lot of times his fire comes off the wrong way to those on the outside. It’s also true that he’s viewed as a divisive figure by some. It’s at least worth acknowledging the risk.
The Browns and Bryant will get together on Thursday, and you assume neither side would waste their time if there wasn’t mutual interest. There already has been plenty of time wasted in this dance. Bryant could very well be another splashy addition for the Browns this offseason. It just would have seemed much better a month or more ago.
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