Dez Bryant, Justin Houston, Demaryius Thomas: Most bang for the buck?

Before Wednesday's deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign a long-term contract, three substantial pacts came together:

Which player do you think will provide the most bang for the buck?

Dez Bryant will give the Cowboys the most bang for their buck. The ultra-talented pass catcher is the best player on Dallas' roster; he deserved to be paid as an elite receiver, based on his performance, production and long-term potential. Bryant has blossomed into a dominant WR1, exhibiting all of the traits (size, ball skills, toughness and scoring ability) that a coach covets in a franchise wideout. Not to mention, Bryant is the emotional leader and sparkplug for an offense that ranks as one of the NFL's best.

Given his overall impact and scoring prowess (56 career TD receptions, including 41 over the last three seasons), Bryant is still a bit underpaid despite today's jackpot. I'll roll with Justin Houston here, because he's simply the best player. There's a reason his guarantees are the highest, especially when you look at the fine print in Bryant's contract. (Some of those "guarantees" are far from "guaranteed.")

Getting bogged down in the details is missing the point, though. A top-five pass rusher is worth more than a top-five receiver. Houston is set apart because he's so strong against the run, as well. He's a huge asset every down, not just when it's a pass play. That gives him an edge over Bryant and Thomas. It's Dez.

At times, he can be a handful, but Bryant is the most talented receiver in the NFL -- the ultimate blend of size and hands and the perfect target for Tony Romo. Bryant is a beast on third down and in the red zone. His will to win is incredible.

Houston and Thomas are also true stars, but Dez is a powerhouse and the pulse of the Cowboys brand. It's Dez Bryant, no question. He is the Cowboys' offense. Frankly, he should have held out, because he had incredible leverage. Take Bryant out of the picture, and the Cowboys are left with A.J. Jenkins, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley in the slot -- not exactly a trio that would frighten opposing defenses. Tony Romo needs Bryant, who accounted for nearly 30 percent of the Cowboys' targets in 2014, in this offense. Additionally, with DeMarco Murray fleeing to the NFC East-rival Eagles, the Cowboys have a dicey run game. But hey, the offensive line is excellent! Too bad they can't catch or run the ball.

Playing without Bryant would cause more damage to Dallas than Denver would experience without Demaryius Thomas. Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense would still be productive with Emmanuel Sanders (who ranked fifth in the NFL in receiving yards last season); Cody Latimer, meanwhile, sounds confident he'll be an active part of coach Gary Kubiak's scheme -- which also includes C.J. Anderson to help balance the attack. Without Bryant, the Cowboys aren't even an 8-8 squad. Give me Dez Bryant. He's the beating heart of the Dallas offense and signed for millions less than Calvin Johnson's annual earnings.

Ultimately, these massive deals mean nothing beyond the guaranteed cash, and Dez's payday will seem antiquated when A.J. Green and Julio Jones sign new deals down the road. I view Bryant as every bit the equal of those players -- he'll just cost less, because he signed his deal first.

Jerry Jones has been lashed in days past for overpaying average players, but the Cowboys owner deserves credit today. It went down to the end, but Big D just put a ring on its best player. The Cowboys remain Super Bowl-relevant for doing so. I think it's easier to negate a pass rusher like Justin Houston than a premier receiver like Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas, and I expect Bryant to see a few more passes thrown his way in Dallas than Thomas under the run-friendly Gary Kubiak in Denver, so I'll give the edge to Bryant. I expect Bryant to produce at a high level throughout the life of the deal, because he has great work habits. When you sign a guy to a contract like this, there's obviously a risk that he might become complacent, which is why Bryant's work habits are especially encouraging.

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