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The Dallas Cowboys decision to release wide receiver Dez Bryant last Friday ended what had been a productive exercise for the Oklahoma State alum at one point in his career, but history seemed to have produced diminishing returns for both sides in recent seasons.
Why the Cowboys waited so long to throw Bryant is a mystery, but it's clear from Bryant's interview with NFL Network's Jane Slater shortly after the cut was announced that there are not many good feelings on the player's side. Bryant alluded to the idea that there was a clique of "Garrett Guys" (involving players close to head coach Jason Garrett) who wanted him out of the building.
"I'm not going to name names, but they know, and I want them to know that I know, I'll send them a text message and let them know." All they know is that, you know, they can use that. Everything they want, but in that locker room … they know who they communicate with … Everyone knows where real love is, I'm not throwing anyone under the bus, but that's the difference between them and me. " .
The statement by team owner Jerry Jones about the launch seemed to confirm that there were many people doing this version.
"As an organization, we have 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. "He will always be a valuable member of our family … We arrived at this crossroads collectively with the opinion of several voices within the organization, and in the end, we decided it was time to go in a new direction."
All of these brands for a fascinating drama, but even if it's true in any degree, Bryant's release was probably triggered as much or more by two factors: his salary situation and his inability to adapt to a skill set that no longer It is what it used to be. Bryant had a $ 16.5 million cap for the 2018 season that included $ 12.5 million in base salary, and for Over The Cap, the team saved $ 8.5 million in salary cap with the release.
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In addition, several members of the Cowboys coaching staff have told Albert Breer of The MMQB that Bryant has not done enough to adjust his game to their diminishing athletic abilities, especially their lack of separation and separation speed, and the fact that their ability to jump over defenses to make contested captures is not as consistent as it should be at this moment.
"Based on last year," a Dallas staff member told Breer about Bryant, "he does very few things very well."
As they say, the tape does not lie, and if there were voices in Jones' ear, you can be pretty sure they were coming from upstairs.
Bryant has not enjoyed a 1,000-yard season since 2014, when he caught 88 passes in 136 goals for 1,320 yards and a league maximum of 16 touchdowns. In the last three seasons, its capture rate has plummeted: from 64.7 percent in 2014 to 43.1 in 2015, 52.1 in 2016 and 52.3 in 2017. Last season, it ranked 72nd among all the qualifying receivers in performance per meeting and accumulated Football Outsiders. metrics: a season in which he earned $ 13 million in base salary.
Bryant did not have a 100-yard game in 2017; the closest he got was his game of five receptions and 98 yards against the Los Angeles Rams at Week 4. And it took 13 goals for Bryant to get those five receptions. If the Cowboys felt it was time to cut the bait, they can not be blamed.
So, the question is: how does Dez Bryant resurrect his career and what kind of receiver can he be?
When you look at Bryant's Ribbon of 2017, one thing is very clear: it no longer has the straight line speed to pass to the corners when they follow it to the limit in the deep side paths or moving with it through the seam to the center. Bryant used to be a bit quick, and although he has never been a receiver with surprising extra equipment, he was able to use that quickness and softness in and out of his breaks to open relatively easily.
That part of his game is almost gone, and he will have to open up in other ways.
This slot capture against Trumaine Johnson, the Week 4 game against the Rams is indicative of what Bryant can still achieve on a regular basis.
Although he was the outside receiver on the right side after receiver Terrance Williams got moving, Bryant played from a slot position and did a great job of keeping Johnson off the road and using his physicality to make the hard trap.
This can still be done, provided that he is in front of the coverage and timing his jumps well.
However, this incomplete two plays later shows how things can now get complicated for B ryant if he tries to beat a very good cornerback in the field.
Here, Johnson is playing bail coverage (spinning and running with the catcher while keeping his eyes on the backfield), and it's no problem taking Bryant all the way down the field; Bryant's speed here is not a factor that Johnson has to consider.
Bryant tries to time his jump, but there's no way he's going to beat Johnson after the cornerback has boxed him.
NFL Media  Bryant could have been better served trying to establish his internal position, and avoiding Johnson's strategy of getting away from him, but here he is sunk.
Bryant's lack of production is especially frustrating because often with only one cover: it's clear that rival defenses do not see him as a sufficient threat to place him between a cornerback and a safety. For the most part, the cornerbacks find it quite easy to handle, especially if they play with great technique. Bryant has never been the most accurate route runner, which adds to his transition problems.
Another serious concern is Bryant's frequent approach. There are moments in the last two seasons when quarterback Dak Prescott recklessly attacked Bryant but just as often he has put the ball where any above-average receiver is expected to play, and Bryant is maddeningly inconsistent even simple catches sometimes.
This interception by Prescott for Seattle Seahawks linebacker KJ Wright in week 16 was all about Bryant.
Pre-snap, Bryant is the receiver of the internal slot on the right, and will have an opportunity to open the route against the coverage of the Seattle area.
Bryant runs a fast-paced route and has the easiest catch below the one he'll ever see, but …
… simply lets the ball pass him hands, and Wright (No. 50) is able to clear the ball. Bryant's tape shows too many of these plays, in which he should be able to catch, and his attention strays from the task.
This touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7 is a good play Preview of the kind of receiver Bryant can be when his physical strength, short-range speed and concentration are aligned.
Before the snap, Bryant has cornerback Rashard Robinson (No. 33) lined up in coverage, ready to channel Bryant to safety Adrián Colbert (No. 38).
Bryant executes a deft inner movement to overtake Robinson and then accelerates past Colbert, who has his eyes in the backfield.
Bryant does a great job taking advantage of the collapse of the coverage, using his jumping ability and his power to catch in the back of the end zone.
What's happening to Bryant right now? In his career it is not unusual, of course, happens all the time to athletes in any sport that is caught between the decrease of physical abilities and the need to accelerate their capacity of adaptation and mental processing to compensate and stay relevant.
If Bryant wants to remain relevant, he would do well to reflect two receivers who were Arizona Cardinals teammates from 2004 to 2009. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were once two of the most dominant outside receivers in the game, and both brilliantly adapted their skills when they lost a step further in their careers.
Boldin became a highly productive receiver of possession, perhaps the best receiver in the league for a while, because he used his strength and technical knowledge. He won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 at age 32 and followed with 1,000-yard seasons with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 and 2014.
Fitzgerald could outperform most defensive players at his best, and He has always been a prominent road racer, but it is the way he has adapted to the slot in the last half decade that will put him on top when discussing his Hall of Fame candidacy. Fitzgerald did not consider moving to the slot for most of his plays as something to brake against, but instead embraced the different skill sets that large slot receivers require. Fitzgerald has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons, led the league with 107 receptions in 2016 at 32, and caught 109 passes for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns in 2017.
Bryant has the physical tools to Becoming a Boldin / Fitzgerald Hybrid afterwards if you work on the reliability of your route, cut the focus reductions and align your physical strength with technical understanding. If he does not, he will be one more athlete who flared when he could not adapt to the vagaries of time. Being launched by his only NFL team to date should be a galvanic call for Bryant, and we'll see if that's how it develops.