It’s time to get the NFL’s silly season started just a bit early.
Last week, Miami Dolphins wide receiver and pending free-agent Jarvis Landry made it well-known that he wants to be paid as one of the NFL’s top pass catchers. He also said the franchise’s initial offer was “disrespectful.”
This off-season, the Dallas Cowboys will more than likely have to make a decision on wide receiver Dez Bryant. The difficult reality is that the team’s most talented pass catcher is not living up to his $17 million cap hit. That figure gave Bryant the Cowboys’ highest cap hit (by almost a full $5 million) and the sixth highest cap hit at that position in the entire NFL last season, according to Spotrac.com.
If his contract does not get restructured, his cap hit will tick up to $16.5 million, which would be the second-highest figure on the team behind All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith ($17.5 million), and the third highest cap hit amongst all receivers in the NFL for 2018.
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Just because Bryant led the team in receptions (69), receiving yards (838) and touchdown catches (six) this season, doesn’t mean he’s providing close to a strong return on the investment the club has made in him.
He’s even said that the scheme is to blame for his sub-par output these past two seasons. That scheme is not likely to see significant changes with the return of head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
While Bryant is capable of serving as a home-run hitter and a massive red-zone target, he actually put up even worse numbers when the team had running back Ezekiel Elliott for a full 16 games. Barring injuries or any more off-the-field incidents, Elliott is likely to play the full slate of games next season.
The reality is that Bryant is likely going to have to restructure his contract no matter where he plays. And while those conversations could be contentious, they are likely to be less so here in Dallas due to the player’s relationship with Jerry Jones. But the franchise’s owner and general manager also said that the team needs more from the elite playmaker following the conclusion of this past season.
So, would it even be possible for Jones to swap one mercurial wideout for another?
If the organization did outright release Bryant, it would save itself $8.5 million, but it would still carry an $8 million dead money hit. It’s rare to see two of the league’s premier talents at any position swap teams, but it’s a hypothetical trade that actually makes sense.
At the moment, Landry’s future in Miami is very much uncertain, which means the team could decide to cut bait early in order to see the best return for a high-value asset.
Technically, the Dolphins can place a nonexclusive franchise tag on Landry, which would allow him to negotiate a long-term contract with the Cowboys. If Miami decided not to match Dallas’ offer, they would receive two first-round draft picks or a player (Bryant) in return.
Last spring, the New England Patriots attemped a similar type of manuever when they tried to swap restricted free-agent Malcolm Butler for then-New Orleans Saints’ wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Eventually, Cooks was traded to New England for a first- and third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Compared to Bryant, Landry’s few shortcomings are obvious. At 5-foot-11 and nearly 210 pounds, the LSU product isn’t a massive red zone target. Last season, he caught just five touchdowns, which was outside the top 30 in the league. In his four seasons, Landry has averaged about six touchdown catches per season.
He isn’t exactly known as a burner either.
Landry’s true forte is his ability to produce, having caught 84, 110, 94, 112 passes in his first four seasons in the league. And in those first two seasons he missed seven games. His 400 combined receptions are the most by any player in their first four years in the history of the NFL.
Up to this point in his career, he’s caught balls from Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, and Jay Cutler, which is a relatively pedestrian group of starting quarterbacks. At 25, Landry is also four years younger than Bryant.
Off the field, both receivers have had run-ins with the law. Last spring, Estrella Cerqueira, the mother of Landry’s child, reported a domestic violence incident to the Fort Lauderdale Police. Months later, video footage of the incident became public, but prosecutors had already concluded that there was not enough evidence to file charges.
Trying to project a long-term deal for Landry is more complicated.
According to Spotrac.com’s latest 2018 contract information, the Cowboys are roughly $20 million under the cap. By subtracting Bryant’s $16.5 million hit, they’d be left with roughly $36.5 million to spend.
In terms of reasonable comparisons, the Seattle Seahawks’ Doug Baldwin and the Indianapolis Colts’ T.Y. Hilton (who was also 25 when he signed his extension) provide the best examples for slot receivers. Baldwin’s cap hit for next season is $12 million, while Hilton’s is right at $13 million.
Assuming Landry eclipses those numbers and setting aside the issue of guaranteed money, a reasonable offer from the Cowboys would likely come in somewhere around 5 years and $55 million. That would put Landry’s cap hit for 2018 right around $14.5 million.
Going forward, the team is going to need to pay up to retain defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence after his stellar 2017 campaign. It also needs to save cap space for the second contracts of Dak Prescott and Elliott. Both players’ rookie deals will come to an end after the 2019 season.