It looked like Dez Bryant had finally settled on the Cleveland Browns as a destination for this season when he visited the team’s facility, but a day later, Bryant left Cleveland without a contract.
Bryant’s lack of suitors in free agency outside of the Browns has been a recurring storyline this offseason, and now we have a number on how little he was valued by the sole team interested in him after he turned down the Baltimore Ravens in May.
The Browns offered Bryant a contract with a base value of less than $5 million, according to a report from Pro Football Talk. Bryant reportedly turned down the deal and is now waiting for either an offer from a better team or a bigger offer from the Browns.
Dez Bryant turns down ‘greatest turnaround in sports history’
On the surface, Bryant’s past production makes him a tantalizing possibility on a Browns team hoping to turn the dial from “rebuilding” to “rising” this season. The offense in particular is expected to see a massive leap forward, thanks to the arrivals of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield.
Head coach Hue Jackson gave Bryant a hard sell on that potential, in an exchange captured by HBO’s “Hard Hard Knocks” a few days ago.
“Twenty-one days, baby, Pittsburgh Steelers, right here at home, in front of the Dawg Pound,” Jackson told Bryant in his office. “It’ll be unbelievable. This will be the greatest turnaround in sports history.”
As enthusiastic as Jackson was, Bryant left Cleveland without a deal. But the two sides seemed to be on the same page during their meeting.
“The last two years have been hell,” Jackson said. “I’ll be the first to tell you that. But it’s going to take guys like you who love to compete, who love to go in these big stadiums. It’s like, ‘We’re here, and we’re coming here to kick your ass.’”
Despite that hype and plenty of salary-cap space, the Browns reportedly offered Bryant less than $5 million. Part of that can be attributed to the team’s lack of eagerness to invest in a player who might not get along with Haley, but it’s also an indication of the dire position Bryant now finds himself in, just weeks before the season begins.
Should Dez Bryant hold out for more than $5 million?
To give a sense of where $5 million would land Bryant in the landscape of wide receiver contracts, two receivers landed one-year deals worth $5 million this offseason: Ryan Grant with the Colts and John Brown with the Ravens. Both Grant and Bryant had bigger offers from the Ravens earlier this offseason, with Bryant turning the team down and Baltimore nixing Grant’s deal at the team physical stage.
Bryant has more than double in career receiving yards than those other two receivers combined, and is just 29. While that makes it sound like Bryant should be looking for a lot more than $5 million, the unyielding truth is that we’re dealing with Dez Bryant here.
There have been whispers about Bryant’s lack of locker room fit for years, and that makes him a tough sell when his skills on the field have also reportedly taken a step back in recent years.
One of the most interesting conversations of my training camp tour this summer was when I came across a non-Cowboys evaluator who had spent a lot of time parsing through Bryant’s film. According to this evaluator, Bryant had spent his career essentially making his living on four routes: back-shoulder throws, slants, digs and some variation of a fade or corner route in an attempt to win 50-50 opportunities. This was the scouting report on him and it rarely deviated, the evaluator said.
Bryant wasn’t a precise route-runner to begin with, and as of late he wasn’t winning with his meat and potatoes. This means that at 29 (and 30 by November), Bryant was going to need to drill down on a litany of things to compensate for what he was losing. That or relearn how to play certain aspects of his position.
For now, Bryant will look for another team, or the Browns to raise their offer. That searching most recently took the form of gushing about the Patriots on Instagram.
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