Dez Bryant remains unemployed 53 days after the Dallas Cowboys cut him for one reason: He lied to himself.
Understand, we have all lied to ourselves at some point, but most of us didn’t have a multi-million dollar career at stake.
My dad has always said, “Lie to others, if you must, but the the worst thing you can ever do is lie to yourself because you either deal with reality or reality will deal with you.”
Bryant lied to himself about his importance to the NFL, which was easy to do because he’s always been in high demand whether we’re talking about Lufkin High School, Oklahoma State or his time with the Cowboys.
He turned down a three-year deal with Baltimore soon after he was released that would’ve paid him $7 million this season because he wanted a one-year “prove it” deal, so he could cash in after a nice season.
Obviously, that was a mistake. He is not getting close to $7 million this season because he has zero leverage, and we all know contracts are about whether the team or the player has leverage.
Bryant lied to himself about his eroding skill set, which is why he never worked with a route-running coach until this off-season - and he’s only been doing that for a few weeks. If Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, the receiver in the league, has worked with a route-running coach for years, then Bryant probably needed it a few years ago.
But it was easy to blame his declining statistics the past three seasons on quarterback Dak Prescott and an offense that lacked creativity, even though it was the same boring offense that made him among the game’s most productive receivers from 2012-2014.
Now, he’s reportedly willing to wait until training camp until the perfect fit opens up.
The reality is nearly 80 receivers have changed teams either through free agency or trades since March and NFL clubs drafted another 34 receivers. Nine teams drafted at least two receivers, including the Cowboys, and Green Bay drafted three receivers.
Minicamps and OTAs are the time for new receivers and draft picks to learn the offense and forge a relationship with their new quarterback. This is valuable time Bryant is missing, and it will affect his ability to perform at the highest level next season.
After all, it took him a few seasons to understand the nuance of the Cowboys’ offense, when he arrived as a first-round pick in 2010.
The biggest lie Bryant told himself revolved around his standing with the Cowboys. He figured he would have to take a pay cut, but he never really thought the Cowboys would cut him.
He assumed Jerry Jones would save him.
That’s why he was so surprised Jerry didn’t offer him a pay cut on the day the Cowboys released him. Jerry didn’t offer him a pay cut because they didn’t want Bryant to take it.
The scouting department and new receivers coach Sanjay Lal had already spoken and they didn’t want him back because he was a poor route-runner and he was no longer a consistent threat down-field.
If Bryant had been more aware of his situation, then he would have done like cornerback Orlando Scandrick and asked publicly to be released as soon as free agency started. Scandrick was released a week into free agency and had a new job with Washington three days later.
His agent handled it perfectly; Bryant’s agent dropped the ball.
Bryant didn’t help himself in February when he went on the Cowboys’ flagship station and talked about how he wouldn’t play hurt anymore and he’d advise his young teammates to do the same.
Nor has he been helped by “All or Nothing” the eight-part Amazon prime series which showed in detail his occasional petulance and the reason why members of the Cowboys’ front office had grown weary of him.
Coaches, scouts and owners will put up with a lot from a player averaging 91 catches, 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns, which Bryant did from 2012-14, but they’re loathe to do it for a player who hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season in three years or a 100-yard performance in 22 games.
Bryant remains unemployed because good teams are trying to figure out whether he’s worth the potential headache if he isn’t contributing the way he wants or expects because they don’t want need any drama.
He’s averaged 141 targets the last four seasons he’s played 16 games. Can he be happy with half of that? It’s a question that must be answered.
For bad teams there’s no need to even think about putting up with the potential drama. It’s those teams in the middle that must decide whether they’re one dude away from making the playoffs or making a deep playoff run and whether Bryant is that guy.
Maybe, Bryant will be that difference-maker. No one knows.
Whether he chooses to admit it or not, this has been a humbling experience for Bryant. But it can be a positive, if it has taught him the importance of dealing with reality.