The team on Friday released the veteran wideout.
The move comes after the 29-year-old Bryant met with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who personally broke the news of the club's plans to part with the player they drafted with the 24th overall pick in 2010.
Bryant was due $12.5 million in 2018, a base salary attached to a weighty $16.5 million cap hit. He stated publicly all offseason that he held no intentions of taking a pay cut. In the end, Dallas never offered Bryant a pay cut, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
"As an organization we hold Dez Bryant in the highest regard, and we are grateful for his passion, spirit and contributions to this team for the past eight years," Jones said in a statement released by the team. "He will always be a valued member of our family.
"Dez and I share a personal and professional relationship that is very strong, and he is one of just a handful of players with whom I have become that close to over the past 30 years.
"This was not an easy decision. It was made based upon doing what we believe is in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys.
"We arrived at this crossroad collectively with input from several voices within the organization. Ultimately we determined it was time to go in a new direction."
Jones has long championed Bryant and went out of his way to support him this offseason, but team executive VP Stephen Jones -- in a crafty bit of father-and-son good cop/bad cop -- emphasized in February that keeping Bryant around at his current cost would be "a tough one."
In many ways, the Cowboys have made it clear this was a possibility, but it remains a stunning move for fans to digest. Bryant has been the lively, volatile, loyal beating heart of the Dallas offense since the start of the decade.
On the field, though, Bryant's star has faded in recent campaigns. The once dominant physical wideout hasn't surpassed 900 yards since signing a lucrative extension in 2015.
"Cowboys coaches started seeing Bryant's overwhelming physical gifts start to slip all the way back in 2015, the injury-plagued first season of his five-year, $70 million second contract," The MMQB's Albert Breer wrote earlier this month. "And that hasn't reversed itself. Three years later, at the point in his career when some players reinvent themselves by becoming craftier, Bryant's struggle to adjust to playing at a different speed has disappointed the team."
Bryant lacks the quickness and explosion that once made him a perennial top-five playmaker at his position. Still, Dez is bound to find a new home sooner than later -- at least, he certainly seems to think so.
Bryant discussed his release during an exclusive interview with NFL Network's Jane Slater on Friday night, alluding to "Garrett guys" working against him on the team.
"I won't put no names out, but they know and I want them to know. I know," Bryant said. "I'll shoot them a text message and let them know. Little do they know is, you know, they can wear that "C" all they want to, but in that locker room, they know they run and they talk to. They know who they communicate with. Everybody knows where the real love is at. I'm not throwing anybody under the bus, but that's the difference between me and them."
The Cowboys now become a prime candidate to pick a wideout in the first round, but good luck finding a player who can fill the hole left by one of the game's more iconic stars of the 21st century.