With an aging quarterback and a roster that was close to a Super Bowl last season, Jones did not want to risk anything getting in his way.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport was the first to report Wednesday that the Cowboysagreed to a five-year, $70 million contract with Bryant, ending a year of overheated speculation and rhetoric. He'll earn $23 million in 2015. Bryant's deal kickstarted a day where $70 million contracts became the going rate for top-shelf receivers, with Demaryius Thomasgetting a very similar deal. (More on that below.)
Still, everything is bigger in Texas, and that's why there was so much focus on Bryant's contract. The emotional and public nature of the negotiations with Bryant only ramped up the attention. Still, this contract always felt like a matter of when, not if. NFL teams don't let top tier talent walk out of the building, except in extreme circumstances. And Jones isn't the type to let a homegrown talent leave town.
The Cowboys have consistently overpaid their own players over the years like Ken Hamlin, Roy Williams, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Doug Free. After some ups and downs on the field in his first two seasons, Bryant has emerged as one of the best five receivers in the NFL over the last three seasons. With Jason Witten slowing down by the season, Dez is the only above average receiver on the team.
The Cowboys and Bryant had to figure out the balance between Dez's short-term money and any concerns the team had about his maturity. The contract details show that Bryant will have $45 million "guaranteed" by March, so he has to stay healthy and with good behavior in the meantime to ensure he gets that money. Like the Cowboys, we never bought Bryant's camp's claims that he would sit out into the season if he wasn't signed by Wednesday. It made too much sense for both sides to get a deal done now.
Bryant's value might never be higher coming off his 16-touchdown season. He'll reportedly make double the money in 2015 than he made in his entire career combined. Why would Bryant risk waiting any longer for that?
Jerry Jones' best quality as an owner is that he's always desperate to win, and ready to pay whatever it takes to do so. As Daniel Jeremiah pointed in Tuesday's Around The NFL Podcast, Jones hasn't been back to a Super Bowl in longer than 20 years. He has a quarterback in his mid-thirties with back issues and a likely Hall of Fame tight end nearing the end of the line. The Cowboys have a loaded offensive line and a defense that looks dramatically improved. The hype and expectations for this season will be unbearable.
In short: This is go time for the entire franchise. Jerry Jones wasn't about to let Bryant's contract get in the way.
Here were some other takeaways during an eventful deadline to get long-term deals done for franchise players:
- Sports Business Daily reported last week that super agency CAA Sports was acquiring agent Todd France's agency. Why does that loom large on Wednesday? CAA represents Dez Bryant and Todd France represents Demaryius Thomas. While the guaranteed money was set up differently in the two deals, it's interesting to note that the two receivers essentially signed the same five-year, $70 contracts. These two deals were not made in a vacuum.
- Peyton Manning has to be thrilled with Thomas' deal. There are a lot of new, moving parts in Gary Kubiak's Broncos offense. Manning, a noted control freak, would have chafed at entering the season without Thomas being fully up to speed on all the new wrinkles in the offense. With Thomas' deal done, they will have a full training camp to work together. For all the talk above of Dallas in "win now" mode, the Broncos are under an even tighter timeline to win because of Manning's age.
- Justin Houston's megadeal with Kansas City, signed early in the day, almost feels like an afterthought. But we think he's the best player who got a deal on Wednesday. Houston is undeniably one of the best pass rushers in the league, and his run-stuffing skills are vastly underrated. Houston received $52 million in guarantees for a reason. A top-notch pass rusher has more market value than a top receiver.
- For what it's worth: Dez did not receive $45 million guaranteed, as was commonly reported. He gets $23 million guaranteed this season, and $22 million more if he's on the roster next March. Now something catastrophic would have to happen on or off the field for Bryant to get cut, but the money isn't guaranteed until he gets through this season unscathed.
- Thomas received $35 million fully guaranteed over the next two seasons. Ultimately, Dez's deal proved to be better. That makes plenty of sense because Bryant is a better player. Based on annual salary, Thomas and Bryant are now tied as the second highest paid receiver in the NFL behind Calvin Johnson.
- Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski signed the quietest deal of the day, picking up $17.2 million on a four-year contract. It's amazing to think how controversial it was when the Patriots let Adam Vinatieri walk away from the team to replace him with Gostkowski. Vinatieri was with the Patriots nine seasons. It's amazing to think Gostkowski will have spent 13 seasons with the team if he reaches the end of his deal.