Recent word to CowboysHQ from inside the Oxnard, California offices say that Dallas, having tackle Tyron Smith already under contract for 2015 under the team option in his rookie deal, has focused their efforts on an extension for star receiver Dez Bryant. [UPDATE: Smith surprisingly [a href="http://dal.scout.com/story/1428062-inside-the-new-deal-of-cowboys-tyron-smith?s=112" target="_blank">signed the team's initial contract offering and is slated to be a Cowboy for life]
Bryant earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2013, after snatching, snaring and hauling in 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those numbers are even more impressive when one looks at red-zone performance. 10 of those 13 touchdowns were on Bryant’s 21 targets inside the opponent’s 20-yard line; putting him in the conversion company of tight ends and red-zone specialists.
Bryant’s numbers over the first few years of his career have been elite. Over the past three seasons, only four players have amassed over 3,000 yards and 30 receiving touchdowns. One, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, is the highest paid receiver in the game. Another, the Saints’ Jimmy Graham, is the highest paid tight end in the game. The fourth, Jordy Nelson in Green Bay, received a pricey 4-year extension this past weekend.
What’s Bryant’s current 2014 salary? Between base and workout bonus, a “paltry” $2.03 million. Yes, Bryant is about to get his. He might not get it, but it wouldn’t be illogical for the Cowboys to make Bryant a one-hundred million dollar man; $100,000,000.
The annual value on the contracts of the highest-paid receivers gives a glimpse into where Bryant could, and maybe should be slotted. Johnson and the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald are the only receivers to average over $16m a season. Players such as Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson populate the next tier. Fine players all of them, but they’d be hard-pressed to argue they have the performance, or the ceiling, that Bryant possesses. These players all have an annual value between $11 and $13 million.
Bryant might not get top money, but you can rest assured his agent will ask for far more than the latter group is making. With so many players in this tier, it’s pretty difficult to envision a reasonable argument coming from the Cowboys that says Dez doesn’t deserve to get paid more annually than these guys.
One can compare Bryant to Brandon Marshall all they want, but they would have to ignore the fact that Marshall’s three-year, $30 million extension occurred at the age of 30. Bryant will most likely play out 80% of this next contract before he reaches that age. It’s a silly comparison. (And by the way, Fish and Ben Rogers on 105.3 The Fan report that the Dez camp thinks it's silly, too. The Cowboys don't want to go there.)
Anyone who has been following the Cowboys specifically and NFL salaries in general know that the true value of a contract lies in the guaranteed money. That normally consists of the signing bonus, as well as the first couple years of base salary. It has become very rare for a player to make it to the end of a substantial second contract in today’s NFL. While the total value of every deal gets the headlines, the guaranteed money is really all that matters.
Dez being Dez.Another look at OverTheCap.com’s chart above shows a lot into the confidence the teams have given their respective wideouts. While Percy Harvin has an average annual salary with the big boys, due to his injury history Seattle wasn’t about to just give him the same type of guarantees. Harvin signed a five-year, $64m contract that only had $14.5m guaranteed; his signing bonus plus first year base salary. His 2014 base salary of $11m was only guaranteed after the Super Bowl was completed. They could have released him at that point and been no worse the wear.
Calvin Johnson dwarfs the rest of the upper echelon of receivers in total guaranteed money at over $48 million. It would be unlikely Bryant gets this in full guarantees, but again, he should probably outpace the guaranteed money of the other wideouts.
"I’m confident in my play, and I’m pretty sure that’s going to take care of itself”
For his part, Dez says that he isn’t at all focused on the negotiations, just on continuing to improve his game, his leadership and his will to win that is permeating the attitudes of his fellow receivers and the defensive backs that must cover them in practice. Recently, understudy (and undersized) receiver Cole Beasley labeled Dez as a football “Einstein”, which if you remember the knock on Bryant when he first entered the league is a Darwinian-sized leap of evolutionary advance.
Bryant is in the final year of his rookie deal, after the Cowboys snared him in the 2010 draft by jumping in front of the Baltimore Ravens. The trade up with New England for just three spots might end up going down in Cowboys annals as one of the franchise’s best draft transactions. That can only happen, however, if Bryant remains a Cowboy for life. He’s stated his desire to do just that, and now it’s time to look at the finances that it might take to make it happen.
For the most part, the market is set for a player’s new contract based on his contemporaries. How much do players of similar skillset and forward projection earn? That will normally forecast the range of what an agent will consider an acceptable offer from the team. From there, one needs to analyze the way the franchise approaches contracts for their young stars and you can see the framework of where the Bryant deal will likely end up.
At 25, Bryant is younger than every other player in the two top tiers was when they signed their new deals, including Harvin.
This age is important, because it allows for the Cowboys to sign Bryant to a seven-year deal with little thought of getting into a situation where they have overspent. The Cowboys have shown that they prefer to lock up their youngest stars to seven-year deals in the recent past. Both Dan Bailey and Sean Lee received deals this long.
Bryant’s first four years, the years that will cover the cap hit for the majority of the guaranteed money Bryant will receive, will all occur prior to Bryant turning 30. In fact, Bryant won’t turn 30 until midway through the fifth year of a new deal. That puts Dallas in a position that even after the guaranteed money portion of a new deal has expired, they will likely still have a player capable of plus-ROI.
Now, on the flip side, Dallas cannot ignore the fact that Bryant is not all that far removed from being a young star that was making questionable decisions off the field. Nowadays, everything Bryant says and does seem to betray the image he was creating while trying to figure out young adulthood. This assuredly is a point of contention for the Cowboys in the negotiations. How could it not be?
In addition, to a lesser extent than his quarterback, Dez Bryant has experienced back problems over the last couple of years. While the public might not be privy to the ins and outs of the epidural shots he took in 2012, or any other possible complications, the team is. They will likely use that to tilt things further away from Megatron and closer to Percy Harvin and his injury history.
Also, Wallace, Bowe and Harvin are obviously overpaid talents. How much will the Cowboys stand their ground they shouldn’t be held responsible for the irresponsibility of those front offices?
Dallas has set up their salary cap to give the team major flexibility starting with the 2016 season. That seems to be the “reboot” benchmark for the roster. For that reason, Bryant’s base salaries might remain relatively low. However, a seven-year deal will allow Dallas to restructure Bryant’s base salary at that point and even beyond, with the addition of the ever famous voidable year that the team has become enamored with.
Of course, Dallas might actually decide against using future cap space in these ways for their next wave of cap management. Maybe. Possibly.
Meet the Bryants.
The rest will all be in the negotiations. One can reasonably expect Bryant to get a seven-year deal, based on Dallas’ history. One can reasonably expect the average annual salary to be between $13 and $16 million, based on the NFL landscape. One can reasonably expect the fully guaranteed portion of the deal to be between $30 and $40 million.
Would it be out of the question for Bryant to get a six-year extension with almost $100 million of new money, including a $20 million signing bonus? Here’s how something like that might look on a year-by-year basis.
|Season||Age As Of Sep 1||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Wrkt/Rstr Bonus||Cap Hit|
This is, of course, one of a thousand different ways the deal can be configured. The Cowboys aren’t allergic to giving franchise cornerstones $20 million plus signing bonuses. When a player’s position is one of the “Money 5” quarterback, left tackle, wideout, edge rusher, or cornerback… they are set to make headlines with their deals.
The average annual salary of $14.3 million over the course of the deal clears the mix of lesser talents, but also leaves plenty of distance between Bryant and players with less baggage but equal talent, Fitzgerald and Johnson.
If the Cowboys guaranteed his base salary for 2014, 2015 and half of 2016 (with injury guarantees for all of 2016 and some or all of 2017), then the “real” money if the Bryant deal sits at around $35 million. Dallas could easily add in clauses that guarantee base salaries if he’s on the roster at the beginning of the league years. And, of course, this isn’t including any kind of performance escalators that could be substituted for some of the base salaries.
On the other side, the guaranteed years and the signing bonus proration means that Dallas could walk away from the player should there be any negative acts. They would be looking at $10 million of dead money, but that could be spread over the course of two seasons and the team has shown they do not have a problem with playing this particular game of accounting.
The Cowboys might not be interested in going to such financial extremes as a $100 million deal, but Bryant’s agent certainly can make the case. Maybe the final two years of the deal are voidable years, and the true value is closer to five years and $78 million. Maybe they want to give Bryant only $13.3 million average per season.
Based on the league’s history, the explosion of this year’s salary cap and projections of future cap ceilings, there is assumed room. Of the young receivers waiting on new deals, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green might be the only one with a bonafide claim to being more highly regarded at the position.
Basically, if the Cowboys aren’t considering going to such lengths, then maybe Bryant and his agent should heavily consider forcing the team’s hand with a possible franchise tag designation stand-off. The team could risk that, and allow the next wave of receivers like Green, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas to set the market for them.
For now, the two sides appear to be far apart in negotiations, but that could change in an instant. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Jerry Jones get this thing squared away in time to usurp the Hall of Fame Game coverage this weekend with Cowboys breaking news. Whichever way this plays, Bryant is going to be a very rich man, very soon. The question will be how much real acrimony - and not the fake Jones-vs.-Dez acrimony which we cleared up here - is involved.
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