Without a snap having even been played, Dez Bryant is being talked about as MVP material.
But he is not biting.
He knows something about what it would take to be the NFL’s most valuable player.
“Being a quarterback,” he said Thursday, drawing laughs in the locker room as he talked to reporters about the idea floated the day before by Michael Irvin on NFL Network .
As the chuckles died down, the Dallas Cowboys’ top receiver said, “Hopefully, this year, I believe Tony’s [Romo] got a good shot at being MVP because I think his mindset is to go out and get it. Us, we’re going to be behind him 100 percent. So, can’t wait.”
Give Bryant credit. He already knew the question was coming, and he knew something about the topic.
No receiver has ever won the MVP award in the NFL. Not Jerry Rice. Not Randy Moss. Not Calvin Johnson.
Bryant said he does not care about the award for himself, anyway.
“If it comes, it comes,” he said. “Everybody will be excited. I’m more excited getting to see Tony get it and just knowing I was part of it. That’s how I look at it. I think MVPs go to quarterbacks because they’re the boss, the CEO on the field, and we just go out there to get him where he’s supposed to go.”
But the unspoken truth is, if Romo goes into MVP territory, it can’t be without Bryant.
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound force of athleticism and desire, entering his fourth year, appears to be closing on the ideal mix of experience, youth, maturity and game awareness that could lead to production beyond the 92 catches for 1,382 yards he put up last season.
“I’m telling you, man. You gotta see this dude now. This dude understands football,” Irvin said on NFL Network. “I gotta say it, I never thought he had the capability of understanding the game the way he understands it. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be off the charts. I’m telling you, man, this dude sees things now.”
Bryant said he appreciated the kind words from Irvin.
But they are only words. They represent only possibilities. In Bryant’s mind, they have to be managed just like everything else.
“I don’t think about them. That’s how I manage them,” Bryant said of the expectations for him. “You just do what you love to do and just play football. Once you think about what everybody’s saying, good or bad, it’s going to kill you. It always does. I don’t care who you are, it’s going to kill you.”
For the first time, Bryant is coming off a clean off-season. There are no questions about NCAA suspensions, sagging pants, unpaid jewelry bills, domestic disturbances — anything. All anyone thinks when they think about Dez Bryant this summer is how far he can go.
But coach Jason Garrett said Bryant can’t let any change, good or bad, affect his approach.
“I think the advice would be the same advice you would give him when people are being critical of him: Just to focus on being the best you can be each day,” Garrett said. “A lot of people in this world are going to say things about you, positively and negatively, and what you have to do is wake up each morning and try to be your best.
“That’s an emphasis we make with everybody on our football team. We try to live that as coaches, we try to live that as an organization — take advantage of this great opportunity that we all have.
“Dez will get that advice from me and from others.”
For Bryant, tuning out the good and bad will be a task in itself. He remains sensitive to the idea that he is maturing.
“Out of the most respect, man, let’s talk about this football,” he told a visiting reporter, who asked about the subject. “I’ve been hearing these maturity questions every day. That’s why I haven’t really been talking to you guys. I know that’s what you want to talk about. But it’s all good, man. I just can’t wait. We’re ready to roll.”
So Bryant talked football. He was asked if he agreed with Garrett that he could have lesser statistics but have a better season.
“Of course. Just because of the fact that the defense is going to give you respect just by your presence,” he said. “They might want to double here, but it’s one-on-one here. Am I going to be doubled up? Now the running game is open. If you’ve got everything clicking, now it’s one-on-one across the board and then that’s when you try to go for the home run.”
Maybe that’s what Irvin and everyone else is expecting — home runs from Bryant. But Bryant merely expects to do everything he can to help the Cowboys win. With MVP numbers or without.
“I don’t really buy into all of that,” he said. “Just go out there and just do what I love to do. And I just play football. Whatever comes, it comes.”