By Joel Deering, Fourth Quarter Sports
On Friday of last week, the Dallas Cowboys released Dez Bryant, one of the best receivers in their team’s history. While Bryant does hold some Dallas Cowboys receiving records, most of that work was done in his first five seasons with the team. Over the past three seasons, Dez hasn’t produced number one receiver numbers. His receiving totals were 401, 796, and 838 over the past three seasons. If you look at the contract Dez had with Dallas, those numbers don’t come anywhere close to what he should have been producing. For the Dallas Cowboys, the money outweighed the production, which ultimately led to Bryant’s release. With Dez now gone, we have to wonder if the Cowboys made the right decision. Are they better without him?
Bryant received his big contract after posting three straight seasons with at least 1,200 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. When you hear the name Dez Bryant, that’s the receiver you expect to see, not the receiver who hasn’t had 1,000 yards in three straight years. Dez isn’t that guy anymore. He’s still a threat in the red zone, but he’s not the deep threat he once was. If we were asking, “Are the Cowboys better without Dez?” after he had posted 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns last season, the answer would easily be no. Although Dez didn’t post those numbers last season and hasn’t for a while, the answer to this question is still no. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t better without Dez, but they’re also not worse.
How does Dallas win games? With their running game. Why did they struggle last year? Because Ezekiel Elliott was out six games and the offensive line didn’t mesh well after having to find a replacement at left guard and sometimes left tackle when Tryon Smith was out. Heading into next season, the Cowboys will have both Ezekiel Elliott and a dominant offensive line back. During the offseason, Dallas has signed a few new offensive line pieces, most notably the former New England Patriot, Cam Fleming. They still have the draft to find their future starter at left guard, but if they don’t, they have the depth to get a solid player in at the position next season. With a healthy Tyron Smith at left tackle, Pro Bowl interior lineman in Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, and La’el Collins in his second year at right tackle, I’m not worried about the offensive line.
Plug Ezekiel Elliott back in with this offensive line and you’re back to your winning formula. Two seasons ago, Dallas won 13 games by running the ball. It was the same formula when they won 12 games in 2014. Going back to Dez Bryant, the season Dallas won 13 games, Bryant wasn’t even the leading receiver on the team. Cole Beasley led the Cowboys in receiving yards with 833 that year. Dez Bryant wasn’t playing at a high level, yet the Cowboys won 13 games.
Now let’s look at who they have at receiver without Dez heading into this season. Dallas has Allen Hurns (signed this offseason), Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown, and Deonte Thompson (signed this offseason). Who among those receivers have produced at least 800 yards in a season during their career?
- Allen Hurns (1,031 yards in 2015)
- Cole Beasley (833 yards in 2016)
- Terrance Williams (840 yards in 2015)
- Jason Witten (Many times during his career)
Okay, so four of the Cowboys current receiving options have had seasons where they’ve been as productive as Dez was last year and the two years before that. Dallas has no clear number one receiver, which is a need for this team. They could go after a guy in the draft, but they don’t have to have a receiver producing 1,000-yard seasons and 10+ touchdowns to have success. All Dallas needs to win games is a dominant running game.
If Ezekiel Elliott can produce another dominant rushing season, it opens everything up for Dak Prescott, keeps the other offense off the field, and puts a lot less pressure on a young and developing defense. Prescott performed well during the Cowboys 13 win season, even without Dez Bryant. Because there was a running game, Prescott wasn’t forced to do everything for the offense.
So in conclusion, Dallas didn’t get better by releasing Dez Bryant, but they’re not worse either. Bring back the running game from the 13 win season, and the Cowboys will be just fine without Dez.