Jesse Pantuosco

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Angry Dez

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Uh oh … Dez Bryant is mad on the Internet.

I’m not sure if you’ve picked up on this (some of these tweets are pretty subtle), but Bryant’s much-anticipated sit-down with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Friday went … poorly. Dez walked into an ambush, not unlike Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas when the mob tricked him into thinking he’d be a made man. Long story short, Dez no longer works for the Cowboys. Now back to Bryant’s Twitter feed …

You get the idea by now, right? Social media outbursts aside, the NFL is a business and sometimes you have to take your lumps. Michael Crabtree knows it. Ndamukong Suh knows it. You better believe Richard Sherman knows it. But at least Sherman’s team had the decency to cut him before the start of free agency. Now Bryant is left to fend for himself with many of the league’s 32 teams hovering dangerously close to the $177.2 million salary cap limit. A number of teams that would have been in on Dez a month ago—the receiver-needy Panthers, for instance—simply don’t have the funds to accommodate a player of Bryant’s caliber.

 

So why’d you do it, Jerry? Jones himself admitted that he and Bryant had a close relationship, even as rumors swirled that Dez may have beefed with teammates and head coach Jason Garrett. The financial element can’t be ignored—Bryant’s 2018 cap number ($16.5 million) would have been third-highest in the league among wide receivers. The expectation was that Dallas would look to lower Bryant’s cap figure by restructuring his deal or asking him to accept a pay cut, neither of which came to fruition. Which begs the question, where do we stand on Bryant as a football player? Clearly the Cowboys had soured on him, but does the league as a whole view Dez as a diminished talent coming off a string of disappointing seasons?

 

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The fact that no one has scooped him up yet could be telling, though Bryant may simply be a victim of bad timing with his release coming well after the start of free agency and on the cusp of the NFL Draft. Despite his accolades—Bryant’s resume includes three Pro Bowl selections and a franchise-record 73 touchdown receptions—Dez’s market has yet to take shape. The revenge-minded Bryant was hoping to take a page out of Richard Sherman’s book by landing with a division rival, but he hasn’t received much cooperation on that front. The Giants and Redskins aren’t interested and it’s doubtful the Eagles, who are already well-stocked at wideout with Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor (not to mention dynasty league favorite Mack Hollins), will throw their name into the Dez Sweepstakes. Sure there’s interest—the Bills, Cardinals, Packers and Ravens have each been mentioned as potential suitors. Houston would also be a sensible landing spot for Dez, who recently began following Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins on Instagram. But given his reputation, it’s still surprising that half the league isn’t on Bryant’s doorstep right now tempting him with a suitcase full of money.

 

Bill Belichick, a shrewd team-builder who always has an eye on the future, would rather cut someone a year early than a year too late. It’s a ruthless way to do business but as evidenced by his eight Super Bowl appearances in the last 17 years, Belichick’s approach to roster construction clearly works. Bryant’s name still comes to mind when people think of elite wide receivers, but the truth is, he wore out that label a long time ago. Injuries have played a role in Bryant’s recent decline. He sat out seven games in 2015 and three more the following season. But that still doesn’t explain last year’s debacle as Dez struggled to a league-high 12 drops while showing little chemistry with Dak Prescott. In fact, during their two years together, Bryant caught just 52 percent of his targets from Prescott compared to 65.1 percent over his final two years with Tony Romo. Maybe the Dez/Dak pairing was never meant to be.

 

Bryant’s diva personality has always been a stumbling block but his productivity never was until recently. 2017 marked his third consecutive sub-1,000-yard season. It was also the third straight year Bryant failed to reach double-digit touchdowns. Once considered a weekly WR1 in fantasy, Dez devolved into a boom-or-bust WR3 this past season. Ted Ginn, Marquise Goodwin and Kenny Stills all outgained Bryant on a yards-per-game basis in 2017. For the last time Bryant eclipsed 100 yards in a regular season game, you’d have to go all the way back to Week 10 of 2016. Sean McVay was still in high school back then (don’t fact-check that). The point is, Bryant has been on the decline for some time now with no clear end in sight.

 

Maybe Dallas was right to pull the plug on Bryant, a high maintenance star seemingly in the latter stages of his career. And maybe Bryant could benefit from a change of scenery. On paper, he’d be a good fit for the Packers, who have yet to find an adequate replacement for Jordy Nelson. It would be a fun narrative too, seeing Bryant return to the site of his famous non-catch in 2015. But even if Bryant’s days of being an elite receiver have passed him by, he won’t be an easy man to replace in Dallas. Barring an unexpected trade or signing, the Cowboys will enter the 2018 campaign with Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley as their top receivers. The Cowboys should be a run-first offense with Ezekiel Elliott back from suspension but losing Bryant, a proven touchdown scorer with a knack for making plays like this, still hurts. Perhaps the Cowboys will address their receiver need in the draft, though this year’s crop of rookie pass-catchers seems marginal at best.

 

Maybe Bryant will find a particularly desperate team willing to pay big bucks for him—the Niners still have money to burn with over $47 million in cap space—but more likely, the veteran will have to settle for a one-year prove-it deal. Bryant is still just 29, making a career resurgence well within the realm of possibility. And if there’s any truth to his recent Twitter musings, Bryant won’t lack for motivation after being shown the door by Dallas.

 

Angry Dez could be a thing, you guys. Who’s ready?

 

Broncos Dump Anderson

 

Is C.J. Anderson the crown jewel of NFL running backs? Heck no, but he did rush for over 1,000 yards last season, becoming the first Bronco to do so since Knowshon Moreno (he of enormous tears) in 2013. So how did the Broncos reward him? I’ll give you a hint: he doesn’t play for them anymore.

 

That’s right—Denver chucked Anderson out like he was yesterday’s news. The 27-year-old has overachieved since arriving as an undrafted rookie in 2013, topping four yards per carry in four of his five NFL seasons. But the Broncos saw an opportunity to save cap space and took it, freeing up $4.5 million with Anderson’s release. ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold also notes that Anderson vocally opposed Denver’s decision to fire RBs coach Eric Studesville this offseason, who had been his biggest supporter in the building. The Broncos nearly traded Anderson to the Dolphins prior to his release, which would have reunited him with Studesville, but the deal fell through. It’s still possible that Anderson could find his way to Miami in free agency, though the Dolphins seem relatively set with Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore at running back.

 

With Anderson headed elsewhere, the Broncos will move ahead with Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson as their primary backs. Booker led Denver in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016, but that was only because Anderson missed the final nine games with a torn meniscus. He took a backseat to Anderson in 2017 but still produced a respectable 574 yards from scrimmage on 109 touches while earning positive marks as a receiver from ProFootballFocus. Booker hasn’t wowed anyone with his efficiency (3.6 career yards per carry) but obviously Denver felt he was ready for a bigger workload. Either that, or the Broncos are gearing up to take a running back early in next week’s draft. Compared to wide receiver, the halfback position is pretty deep this year, though Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the only lock to go in the first round. Our own Josh Norris actually had Denver picking Barkley at fifth overall in his latest mock draft.

 

Truthfully, I hadn’t really considered Denver as a landing spot for Barkley until Josh brought it up, but it does make sense, particularly now that Anderson is out of the equation. All along I assumed the Broncos would draft a quarterback at No. 5 and I think that’s still their primary aim. But with the potential for three or maybe even four quarterbacks to go in the top four (the Browns would have to trade down at No. 4), Barkley could conceivably slip to the Broncos at No. 5. Of course, I could just as easily see Denver trading up to secure one of the draft’s top four quarterbacks. Denver seems to have realized that 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch isn’t a franchise QB and as good as Case Keenum was for the Vikings last year, he’s merely a stopgap.

 

At this point we’re all just speculating, but most mocks I’ve seen including Josh’s have Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield going to the Jets at No. 3. After Denver’s coaching staff specifically asked to have Mayfield on their team at the Senior Bowl in January, my guess is the Broncos are hoping to land Mayfield at No. 5. If the Broncos feel strongly enough about the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, it would probably behoove them to move up, especially if the Giants are open for business at No. 2.

 

I’m not sure we can expect the Giants to trade out of the No. 2 spot given the history of GM Dave Gettleman, but it’s something New York should at least consider. Personally, I think New York would be crazy to pass on a quarterback but according to reports, the G-Men aren’t enamored with any of this year’s signal-callers and view Barkley as a “near-perfect” prospect. The Giants could go ahead and take Barkley at No. 2, but if they swapped picks with Denver, there’s a good chance Barkley would still be available for them at No. 5. The Bills, who own two first-round picks, are another team I expect to call Cleveland and New York about trading into the top four. The quartet of Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold will probably be gone by the time Buffalo picks at 12, so the Bills will likely have to execute a trade of some kind. With A.J. McCarron atop the team’s current depth chart, Buffalo needs to come away with a franchise signal-caller next week.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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