Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas, draft and other possible Cowboys spinoffs from Dez Bryant release

Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas intercepts a pass from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and runs it back for a first-quarter touchdown on Oct. 29, 2017, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas intercepts a pass from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and runs it back for a first-quarter touchdown on Oct. 29, 2017, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Seattle Times/TNS

Receiver Dez Bryant is officially gone.

But the drama surrounding his surreal, yet unsurprising, release from the Dallas Cowboys last Friday continues to rage inside and outside the team's headquarters at the Star in Frisco.

Here are five things you need to know:

One door closes, another opens?

The release of Dez Bryant takes a star away from the offense and might open the door for a veteran star to be added to the defense. It's no secret that Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas has expressed interest in finishing his career with the Cowboys, a team he grew up rooting for as a kid in Orange, Texas. To that end, the Cowboys have contacted the Seahawks about a potential draft trade. But the Seattle asking price of a first- and third-round draft pick was too high. The Cowboys are holding out hope that their asking price goes down to maybe a second-round pick. And the $8 million cap space they saved by cutting Bryant could be used to pay Thomas, whose base salary for 2018 is a convenient $8.5 million. Thomas, a former Texas Longhorn, is in the final year of his contract and wants an extension. So the Cowboys would have to honor that at some point. They are also hoping he might take less to come home. The addition of Thomas would give the Cowboys a difference maker and leader in the back end they haven't had since Darren Woodson retired in 2003, while giving the defense a third proven playmaker to go with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and linebacker Sean Lee.

Bryant's release was about production and declining skills, not saving money

There has been much talk about Bryant's departure being rooted in his $12.5 million salary and $16.5 million cap hit for 2017. Vice president Stephen Jones greased the skids early in free agency when he said the contract was a problem, given Bryant's declining numbers of the past three years. But when the final decision was made, it wasn't about money. It was about Bryant's declining skills and the thinking inside the Cowboys that the prideful receiver couldn't handle the new normal — thus the need to go in a new direction. The Cowboys had the cap room to keep Bryant at his current salary. Bryant would have taken a pay cut if the Cowboys had asked. They didn't ask him to. This was not about reducing Bryant's salary. This was about getting rid of Bryant. And even with the release, they took his entire dead money cap hit in 2018 and didn't split it up over two years to save money. The Cowboys watched every game from 2017 and they saw a receiver who could no longer separate, who ran poor routes and dropped passes, according to a source. Add in the salary and the high maintenance that he brought as the No. 1 wideout, and the decision to move on was their only choice.

Fan reaction drama partly rooted in losing

Dez Bryant is not the first Cowboys star to be released and won't be the last. Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen, Demarcus Ware and Tony Romo were all cut by the Cowboys. But the drama behind Bryant's departure is seemingly on another level and being taken far more personally than the others, though Romo's cut a year ago compares. The rise of social media is to blame, but so are the Cowboys' poor fortunes since their most recent Super Bowl title in 1995. With just two playoff wins since 1997, Cowboys fans have had little team success to latch onto, so they have draped themselves in the success of their individual stars while inflating their presence to godly status. Romo's release was emotional for many fans. Bryant's departure has induced rage and anger that will only be dissipated by doing something the Cowboys haven't done in a couple of decades, winning something big.

Impact on the draft

Dez Bryant's release should have minimal impact on the Cowboys' plans for the 2018 NFL Draft, set for April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Cowboys were already planning on drafting a receiver in either the first or second round. They had already been taking steps toward life without Bryant. The release just made it public. But in addition to signing Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency, the Cowboys have been doing their due diligence on some of the draft's top receiver targets. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Maryland’s D.J. Moore, Florida's Antonio Callaway and Oklahoma State’s James Washington were brought in for pre-draft visits. The Cowboys have also spent time with SMU’s Courtland Sutton and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk at their respective pro days, and the team reportedly had a private workout with LSU's D.J. Chark. The receiver in the draft train had already left the station before the Bryant release

Where will Bryant land?

Add where will Bryant land and when to the storylines. He will have a market because he can score touchdowns. He has said he wants to stay in the NFC East in hopes of seeing the Cowboys twice a year and making them regret their decision. The Redskins seem to be the only legitimate option there because of available cap space, the depth chart at receiver and penchant for adding former Cowboys. Players from around the league made pleas to Bryant to come to their team via social media. Bryant caused a stir over the weekend by following several members of the Houston Texans on Instagram. But players don't make those decisions. The list of teams with needs at receiver include the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills. Another question is when will he sign? Teams are focused on the draft and could choose to address their needs there before dipping back at potential free agents. If he doesn't make a quick move this week, look for Bryant to be idle after the draft.

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