Dallas Cowboys

Hall of Famer Michael Irvin says Dallas Cowboys should keep Dez Bryant

Former Cowboy, Hall of Famer and broadcaster Michael Irvin with wide receiver Dez Bryant at the Cowboys afternoon practice at their 2015 training camp in Oxnard, California.
Former Cowboy, Hall of Famer and broadcaster Michael Irvin with wide receiver Dez Bryant at the Cowboys afternoon practice at their 2015 training camp in Oxnard, California. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Michael Irvin is among those who feel the Dallas Cowboys would be making a mistake if they cut Dez Bryant.

Bryant and owner Jerry Jones are scheduled to meet Friday, and a decision on Bryant’s future with the organization is expected to come from those talks.

Irvin, the Hall of Fame receiver who now works as an analyst on NFL Network, hopes the resolution is that Bryant remains with the team.

“When I look at the Cowboys team as they are made up, there is no way in my mind that I get rid of Dez Bryant,” Irvin said in a telephone interview with the Star-Telegram.

Irvin listed several reasons why the Cowboys should keep Bryant, ranging from his jump-ball skills in the red zone, to not relying on a rookie, to his salary being fair-market value.

“The most important part of the football field is the red zone,” Irvin said. ‘We have kept a tight end, Jason Witten, who is of course one of the greatest and an all-time Dallas Cowboy who is still playing at a high level. When we’re keeping Jason Witten, we’re giving up the jump-ball, because we don’t have a jump-ball tight end.

“So we’re giving up our jump-ball weapon if we give up Dez. He is our jump-ball guy. Dez is superb at it. If he’s falling off superb and lands on great, we’re still in a good position. You can’t give that up.”

Bryant, 29, is still among the top receivers in the game at high-pointing the football in the end zone. There’s a reason he surpassed Irvin as the franchise leader in receiving touchdowns, with 73.

Irvin said that the receiver issues won’t be resolved through the NFL Draft. Irvin is a fan of Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, who is one of the Cowboys’ pre-draft visitors, but Irvin would be shocked if Ridley were available when the Cowboys pick at No. 19 later this month.

Even if the dream scenario happens and Ridley falls to them, Irvin sees a Ridley/Bryant pairing being more successful than anything.

“You get Ridley and then you let Dez go? I don’t see that as being better,” Irvin said. “Maybe you’ll be better in the long run because Ridley is young and he’ll get better, but I don’t see that as a better receiving group right now, and that’s the issue.

"Now, if I can get a Ridley to pair with Dez and a [Allen] Hurns and play with that lineup? Now I made my team better."

Finally, Irvin doesn’t think Bryant’s salary is that out of line in today’s market.

Bryant is owed a $12.5 million base salary and will count $16.5 million against the salary cap in 2018. Bryant’s production has dropped since he signed a five-year, $70 million contract in 2015. Bryant hasn’t had more than 69 receptions or 838 yards in a season and has battled injuries such as a broken foot in 2015 and a tibial plateau fracture in 2016.

But receivers are getting paid in today’s market. Sammy Watkins, whom the Cowboys tried to sign in free agency, is making $16 million a year with the Kansas City Chiefs. Allen Robinson, who is coming off an ACL injury, signed a contract that will pay him $14 million annually with the Chicago Bears.

“Dez’s contract really is market value now,” Irvin said. “Sammy Watkins got $16 million on the open market, and Sammy hasn’t done anything near what Dez has done. Allen Robinson, coming off an ACL, is making $14 million a year. Are you joking? Allen Robinson, I love him, great player, but he’s coming off an ACL and they gave him $14 million a year, and we’re talking about Dez Bryant’s $12 million? Are you joking? C’mon, man.

“We’re seeing a number for Dez that we thought was outrageous is really not outrageous. That’s the issue we’ve got to be careful with. He’ll find someone who will pay him $10 million a year to play football.

“Listen, we’re in a place where our emotions are making decisions. Emotions are another word for loss of control. If I say something to you that’s funny, you don’t decide to laugh. You just laugh. That’s your emotion. If I said something to hurt your feelings, you don’t think, ‘Wait a minute. Give me a minute. I think that hurt. Should I cry?’ That’s not a decision. You just cry.

"And right now we’re allowing our emotions, which is a loss of control, to make decisions for us. That’s a scary place.”

Irvin wants the Cowboys to make the right decision for football reasons. And he just doesn’t see how letting Bryant go makes the Cowboys a better team.

Irvin believes that Bryant still has the potential to produce like a No. 1 receiver. He pointed to what Alshon Jeffery did with the Philadelphia Eagles as a good measuring stick for Bryant as opposed to an Antonio Brown or Julio Jones.

“Alshon Jeffery was the No. 1 receiver for the world champion Philadelphia Eagles last year. Check out his numbers compared to Dez,” Irvin said.

Jeffery, who makes $13 million annually, finished with 57 receptions for 789 yards and nine touchdowns. Bryant had 69 catches for 838 yards and six touchdowns.

“You see what I’m saying? Your No. 1 can be Antonio Brown or Julio Jones, who did not win a Super Bowl last year, or your No. 1 can be an Alshon Jeffery or Dez Bryant with some other receivers around them,” Irvin said. “That’s not to say that Dez can’t put up great numbers or won’t put up great numbers.

“I just don’t understand how we make ourselves better by getting rid of the best guy we have and bringing in somebody else, as opposed to bringing in somebody else and keeping him with the best guy. If we’re going to get rid of people, let’s start getting rid of the bottom people and then add. Don’t get rid of the top people and add. Get rid of the bottom people and add, then you just got better.”

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