Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones had a simple answer last month at the Senior Bowl when asked about Dez Bryant’s status with the team.
“He’s under contract,” Jones said.
Jones had a different answer Thursday night when he attended the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award ceremony at Ford Center.
Bryant’s production has not matched his contract the past three seasons, and Jones acknowledged a looming “business decision” for the Cowboys.
“No one wants to compete and get after it more than Dez,” Jones said. “At the same time, we all know this is a business where everybody has to be accountable. Certainly everybody knows that. That’s a tough one. Certainly we’re going to be grinding it out and trying to determine what is in the best interest of our business.
“Dez understands this is a business. No one thinks more of Dez Bryant than starting at the top, Jerry, and certainly me, his teammates, coach [Jason] Garrett, Will McClay. We all have a tremendous amount of respect for Dez. That’s one of the things that we’re going to have to work through as we move into our future.”
Bryant is scheduled to make $12.5 million and count $16.5 million on the salary cap next season. The team could absorb that if Bryant produced as a No. 1 receiver.
The problem, though, is that Bryant has underperformed since signing a five-year, $70 million deal (with $45 million guaranteed) going into the 2015 season. Bryant had three consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns when he signed the deal.
In the three years since, Bryant has failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark and has not had double-digit touchdowns.
Bryant finished last season leading the team in receptions (69), receiving yards (838) and touchdown receptions (six), but also ranked among the league leaders with 12 dropped passes.
Despite his struggles, Bryant made it clear that he’d be unwilling to accept a pay cut late in the season.
As stated, it leaves the Cowboys with a difficult decision to make on how to handle the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions.
Witten, meanwhile, still sees upside for Bryant.
“I do believe Dez can be a premier receiver again,” Witten said. “Look, we didn’t perform at a high level offensively, all of us didn’t. It’s easy to point to that, but really we didn’t play at the level we expect to. I’ve seen him practice, I’ve seen him work, I know he can play the position at a high level.
“As you get older, you become smarter and more knowledgeable and those are things that Dez is going to use to his advantage. Certainly he can still play at a high level. I don’t know if there’s anybody out there that can high-point the football quite like he does.”