Dez Bryant bet on himself and hit the jackpot Wednesday with a five-year, $70 million contract extension from the Dallas Cowboys.
“God is real... #cowboynation stand up #throwupthex,” tweeted Bryant shortly after signing the contract.
It was a huge win for the 26-year-old Bryant, who has matured from a character concern when he was drafted in 2010 to arguably the best receiver in the NFL.
The two sides came to terms less than an hour before the deadline Wednesday for franchise players to sign long-term deals.
If the deal hadn’t been signed by 3 p.m., Bryant would have had to wait until after the season to sign a new deal.
“We’re extremely proud to have this contract done with Dez,” owner Jerry Jones said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “We’re excited about the length of the contract and certainly are excited about the next five years with him in Dallas with the Dallas Cowboys.
“There was never a question in my mind that we wanted a long-term deal with Dez. We just had to get the pot right. I want to say how proud of I am of Dez. It’s a life-changer and he earned it.”
Bryant, who had yet to sign his franchise tender guaranteeing him $12.8 million in 2015, had threatened to hold out of training camp and miss games during the regular season if he didn’t get a long-term deal.
The NFL Players Association had also threatened to charge the Cowboys and the Denver Broncos with collusion if Bryant and Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas didn’t receive long-term deals.
The drama was averted with the last-hour deal that will pay Bryant $45 million in guaranteed money and includes a $20 million signing bonus, sources said.
Thomas signed a deal with almost the same terms as Bryant’s, except his guarantee was reported as $43.5 million.
Jones and vice president Stephen Jones flew to New York on Tuesday night and negotiated with Bryant’s representatives until a breakthrough came at 3 a.m. Jerry Jones has said all along that deadlines make deals, and that was certainly the case with Bryant.
Negotiating face-to-face also made a difference.
“We are here because of a deadline,” Jerry Jones said. “We were here to until 3 a.m. I’m a fan of eye-to-eye. I’m not a fan of texting and messaging. His team and his representation sold me that this was another step in taking Dez to being the player he hopes to be.
“This was in the best interest of the Cowboys to have the contract and terms we got as opposed to the franchise tag and future negotiations. It was in our best interest. It was in Dez’s best interest.”
Add in his $3 million base salary and Bryant will take home $23 million in 2015 in guaranteed money.
The rest of the guarantee comes with payments of $9 million in 2016, giving him $32 million in fully guaranteed money at signing. And if he is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2016, his $13 million base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
The deal, which averages $14 million a year, makes Bryant the second highest-paid receiver in the NFL behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and his $16 million average.
It’s a huge win for Bryant, who overcame questions about off-the-field issues as well as a hard-line financial stance from the Cowboys that had them offering nowhere this much in guaranteed and average salary during initial proposals.
The Cowboys came up considerably on their offer to get the deal done. And there is no additional language added to cover them in case Bryant gets into trouble, Jones said.
Still, it was ultimately a win for the team.
“We know Dez well,” Jones said. “As well as we know him, you see the kind of commitment we made here. That says a lot about how we feel about him on and off the field. He had made tremendous strides as far as his complete maturation. It’s important we have Dez.”
After letting NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray walk in free agency, it was doubtful Dallas was going to enter training camp, let along the season, without Bryant in the fold.
If the Cowboys had any hopes of building off last season’s NFL East title and run to the NFC Divisional Playoffs with a possible Super Bowl berth in 2015, they seemingly needed Bryant on board from the outset.
His ability to command double teams on the outside opens the running game and creates space for tight end Jason Witten and fellow receivers Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley.
Bryant is coming off three straight 1,200-yard seasons, including 88 catches for 1,320 yards and a team-record 16 touchdowns in 2014, when he was named to his second straight Pro Bowl.
Bryant has caught 381 passes for 5,424 yards and 56 touchdowns since being taking 24th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. No player in team history has more catches, yards or touchdowns than Bryant in the first five years of his career.
His 56 receiving touchdowns are the most in the NFL since he entered the league.
Jones said Bryant was not only the best receiver in the league but also indispensable to the Cowboys in 2015 and beyond.
“Dez is elite in his skills,” Jones said. “He inspires our team with his competitiveness. He is a proven playmaker. He is a very important part of this season and our future. This is a real cornerstone.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760
Dez Bryant’s new contract puts him among the eight NFL receivers who average at least $10 million a season:
Calvin Johnson, Lions
7 years, $16.2 million
Dez Bryant, Cowboys
5 years, $14 million
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
5 years, $14 million
Mike Wallace, Vikings
5 years, $12 million
Vincent Jackson, Bucs
5 years, $11.1 million
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
2 years, $11 million
Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
5 years, $11 million
Randall Cobb, Packers
4 years, $10 million