While owner Jerry Jones insists he wants Bryant back with the Cowboys, his son, and team executive vice president, Stephen Jones has been singing a slightly different melody.
The younger Jones continued to express hesitation in bringing Bryant back at a $12.5 million base salary Thursday night when the attended the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award ceremony.
"No one wants to compete and get after it more than Dez," Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "At the same time, we all know this is a business where everybody has to be accountable. Certainly everybody knows that. That's a tough one. Certainly we're going to be grinding it out and trying to determine what is in the best interest of our business.
"Dez understands this is a business. No one thinks more of Dez Bryant than starting at the top, Jerry, and certainly me, his teammates, coach [Jason] Garrett, Will McClay. We all have a tremendous amount of respect for Dez. That's one of the things that we're going to have to work through as we move into our future."
The Cowboys would have an easy time swallowing Bryant's $16.5 million salary-cap hit if he'd played like a dominant No. 1 receiver in recent years. He hasn't.
The 29-year-old wide receiver hasn't reached the 900-yard barrier (let alone 1,000) since 2014. Since signing his new contract in 2015, Bryant is averaging 53.55 yards per game played (2,035 total yards in 38 games). For comparison, the NFL's top wideout, Antonio Brown, has almost double that average over the same span: 103.35 yards per tilt (4,651 yards in 45 games). Even a 34-year-old Larry Fitzgerald has made Dez look old. Fitzy averaged 70.70 yards per game since 2015. (3,394 yards in 48 games). Bryant is closer (but still not better) than the production of Golden Tate, who has compiled 60.27 yards per game since 2015 (2,893 yards in 48 games) but makes way less money than the Cowboys' star (Tate: $7 million in 2018; Bryant: $12.5 million).
Since his knee injury in 2016, Bryant hasn't displayed the same type of explosiveness that could beat defenders one-on-one. As NFL Network's Bucky Brooks wrote in September, Bryant's lack of ability to separate from defensive backs in recent seasons, coupled with a limited route tree, has lowered his production significantly.
Stephen Jones continuously talking about the "business" side of the game when it comes to Dez could be an attempt to try to soften the receiver's stance against taking a pay cut. Under Jerry Jones, the Cowboys don't historically cut players of Bryant's stardom, yet that move could save Dallas $7 million in cap space. Convincing Bryant to re-do his contract -- or sign a win-win extension that allows Dallas to lower the cap number and the wideout to save financial face -- will take some work. Stephen Jones has been laying the foundation for months now.