Jerry Jones Still Owns the Cowboys

Updated: July 22nd 2015

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Fantasy owners are fortunate that Jerry Jones owns the Cowboys. If Dez Bryant played for a different franchise, one with a shrewder Owner/General Manager, things could have turned out differently. I have read several opinions stating otherwise, but the truth is that the team had all of the leverage in this situation. The Cowboys management surely views the current roster as Super Bowl contenders. They have a ton of young talent on both sides of the ball, but they want to win now. Tony Romo (35) and Jason Witten (33) are not getting any younger, plus Jerry Jones turns 73 this fall. However unlikely it may have been for Dez Bryant to sit out the first nine games of the season, Jerry Jones did not want to risk it. With Dez’s deal in place, not only is Dez a safe bet at WR1 for the foreseeable future, but so are Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones.

It was widely reported that Mike Wallace’s contract was screwing up the Wide Receiver market and was a roadblock in negotiations between the Cowboys and Dez Bryant as well as with the Broncos and Demaryius Thomas. In my opinion, the gap between contract one (Calvin Johnson) and contract two (Mike Wallace) in the Wide Receiver market was a much bigger issue than the fact that contract two was Mike Wallace. Before last Wednesday afternoon, the franchise tag ($12.83M) gave Dez & Demaryius the second highest Average Per Year (APY), despite the fact that the tag is the average of the five highest salaries at the position.

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Dez & Demaryius both compared favorably to Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, but were not going to be able to command Calvin Johnson money. So the question became, where should they fit in the $4.2M gap? In a normal situation, the team would be incentivized to sign a franchise tagged player to a long-term deal to realize a savings on the player’s cap figure and annual salary. In this case, the teams were actually getting a significant discount via the franchise tag, as both players reportedly rejected offers of $12M annually during the last few weeks. The teams controlled the players’ rights for two years, at $12.83M for 2015 and $15.4M (120% of $12.83M) in 2016, or an average of $14.1M. Those figures represented pretty strong value for the team side, as the Cowboys would have Dez at age 26 and 27, and the Broncos would have Demaryius at 27 and 28, before the price of a potential third consecutive tag would have been extremely pricey in 2017 (at least $22.2M; the greater of +44% and the Quarterback tender).

For the Broncos, this was probably a particularly attractive option, as Peyton Manning has two years remaining on his contract, and there is a greater combined chance that in 2017 he A) retires or B) leaves in Free Agency than C) plays for the Broncos. While Romo is signed through 2019, when he’ll be 39, it’s hard to say with certainty he’ll still be the Cowboys quarterback at that point.

While the leverage was firmly on the team side, the players did have two points of leverage, although one of those points was not particularly strong. First, both Dez & Demaryius are extremely talented football players, each the best player on their team. Some would argue otherwise for Demaryius (Peyton, Ryan Clady, Von Miller, and DeMarcus Ware are all among the best at their respective positions) and perhaps even Dez (I suppose an argument could be made for Sean Lee, Greg Hardy, Tony Romo, or the Cowboys Offensive Line as a unit). Each player has the opportunity to be the cornerstone of their respective franchises for the next decade plus, especially since it’s likely each of their franchise-pillar Quarterbacks will be done playing long before they are. Statistics aside, you know this if you have watched either of them play: each time either player steps on the field, it greatly increases the probability that their team is going to win. That brings us to the second point of leverage…the possibility of either player not stepping on the field this year despite being under contract.

Dez said (in fact, he swore on his children) that he would not show up without a long-term deal.

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But, was he actually going to make good on that threat? Well, first of all, the tweet was sufficiently ambiguous about what “there” was that he could have skipped training camp and shown up Week 1 without technically breaking his promise. While it certainly made sense to threaten to sit out games without a deal, if the deadline had passed without a deal, nothing would be accomplished by sitting out, other than giving up millions of dollars for spite. Let’s assume for a second Dez was willing to carry out that threat in both 2015 and 2016; He would have given up $16.6M in game checks ($7.55M in 2015 & $9.05M in 2016). That’s an amount he never would have been able to recoup over the remainder of his career, no matter how much bigger he believed his next contract would be after proving he was willing to sit out.

The Cowboys ended up coming to the table with a very fair offer (especially given their relative position of strength) at 5-years, $70M, with $44M guaranteed (reports of $45M guaranteed include what are essentially two $500k workout bonuses). Check out the full contract details here.

Assuming Dez shows up for workouts, he’ll end up earning $45M over the next three years. The Cowboys could cut him before the fifth day of the 2016 league year, but Dez will have pocketed $31.5M by mid-March, 2016 if the Cowboys do so. That’s almost 90% of the total value of what he would have earned under three consecutive franchise tags. Dez is only set to earn $12.5M in each of the final two years of the deal. I can definitely envision a holdout in 2018. Dez will be $45M richer, and $12.5M annually won’t be anywhere near the top of the market at the position after Julio, A.J., Alshon, DeAndre, and some of the studly 2014 WR class get new deals with a rising Salary Cap. Ultimately, it’s a good deal for both sides, though it certainly would have been interesting had the Cowboys decided to flex a little more muscle. Dez Bryant gets the guaranteed money he reportedly needed, and the Cowboys have purchased time.

Despite all the Tweets claiming that the Cowboys and Broncos colluded because the Bryant and Thomas contracts are nearly identical, it’s simply not true. I’m not saying that Stephen Jones and John Elway didn’t collude; rather, I’m just saying that the matching contracts hardly represent evidence of such. Once the Dez deal was done, he immediately became the best comparable for Demaryius Thomas deal. Though the deal was submitted to the league office roughly an hour before the deadline, I’m sure the NFL management council rushed to interpret the values in the contract and communicated them with the Broncos. The Broncos and Thomas’ representatives would have already had the framework for a deal in place, and with Bryant’s numbers in hand, it was just a matter of haggling over a few finer points in the closing minutes.

In the end, the Dez Bryant deal helped eliminate uncertainty for four of the top 10 fantasy Wide Receivers, as both he and Demaryius are under contract, and now the Bengals and Falcons have clear outlines for Julio Jones and A.J. Green.

Tips for Demaryius and Dez in Your Reality Sports Online League

If you are in a Reality Sports Online fantasy league, here’s my take on Dez and Demaryius for your Reality Sports Online Free Agency Auctions:

Demaryius Thomas

  • Recommended Contract: 2 Years, $58M
  • Rationale: I think it’s fair to expect another two years of consistent production similar to what we’ve seen from DT over the last three years with Peyton Manning. Something to the tune of 100 catches, 155 targets, 1,500 yards, and 10+ touchdowns. But, if you give him anything beyond two years, you’re taking a big risk. If Peyton retires or leaves in Free Agency, it’s not fair to assume DT will acquire a Quarterback on par with Manning. And if Manning keeps playing, the Franchise tag is always an option in your league, though it’s probably fair to assume at least a small decline in productivity if Manning is playing beyond 40.

Dez Bryant

  • Recommended Contract: 3 Years, $85M
  • Rationale: Some have concerns about a down year from Dez after getting paid, but I’m not one of them. I think we’re going to see Dez’s best year yet, and even if the running game isn’t as productive as it was a year ago, I envision that leading to more targets for Dez. Not all that different from Demaryius, 100 catches, 160 targets, 1,450 yards, and 15 touchdowns aren’t unreasonable expectations. I think Dez is a safe bet for at least the first three years of his new contract, but after that, Romo could be gone, and there could be a contract holdout from Dez.
More Analysis by Matt Papson