The NFL hasn't witnessed Dez Bryant catch a pass since Dec. 31, 2017, when he played for the Dallas Cowboys in a season marred with controversy and capped with having been eliminated from the playoffs before January rolled around. It was also one followed by a frustrated Bryant telling the media he would have conversations with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and coach Jason Garrett about scheme issues that dampened his production, but those conversations were replaced with rumors of the club having decided to move on from him.
Linehan sold the team on a wide receiver by committee approach, and Bryant was released in April 2018, ushered out the door by the very team that selected him in first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He'd then sign with the New Orleans Saints in November following his release, but tore his Achilles two days later. , he announced heading into Week 10 of the league calendar, the 31-year-old is healthy -- mentally and physically -- and feels he can contribute to a contender.
As far as reported demands he be signed as a starter? Hogwash, according to Bryant. Being a rotational player is of no consequence to him, to his own admission, and there are several teams looking to make a run at February that are likely ready to take his call, if not take the proactive approach of reaching out to him first.
After all, a player capable of racking up 73 NFL touchdowns doesn't grow on trees.
Bryant is a Lufkin, Texas, native who makes it known at every turn just how much he loves his home state, but his adoration isn't exclusive to North Texas. His hometown is actually an hour closer to Houston than it is to Dallas, and that's not the only reason this might be a marriage made in heaven. The Texans sit atop the AFC South but just barely, and giving Deshaun Watson another big, strong target to throw the ball to can only help their chances of battling other contenders in the AFC. Watson has worked his magic to an MVP-caliber level in 2019, but the team's wide receiver corps has battled injury.
Kenny Stills returned from a hamstring injury recently only to then see Will Fuller succumb to the same ailment, and the success of the Texans is predicated upon Watson's ability to extend plays and fire shots to talented receivers. Bryant alongside Stills and DeAndre Hopkins could be a potent combination, and especially when Fuller is healthy enough to return.
The Texans could certainly use Bryant, and he would only be a short skip from where he grew up as well.
2. New Orleans Saints
They wanted him in 2018, and grabbed him, but fate conspired against their union. Now that he's healthy, the Saints reaching back out to Bryant feels like a no-brainer, aided by the instant chemistry he found with coach Sean Payton and players in the locker room. The team went so far as to note that although Bryant had gotten injured two days after signing, they were still going to award him a Super Bowl ring, if they were successful in their quest. One controversial no-call later, it was instead the Los Angeles Rams representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, but the Saints are right back to their winning ways in 2019, and attempting a mulligan with Bryant makes sense.
After noting the usual dominance of Michael Thomas, you'll find a massive void between his production and that of second-place Ted Ginn, leaving a spot for Bryant to get in where he fits in. With Drew Brees returned, a rotation that includes Thomas, Ginn, Bryant, Alvin Kamara and a healthy Jared Cook would go a long way to helping them complete a mission the NFL officials helped derail a year ago.
New Orleans is also not far from South Texas, and by now you're understanding how important that would be in Bryant's decision.
Admit it, you knew this was coming. Yes, the Patriots have won eight of their nine games this season, but it's largely due to the dominance of a defense that owns the NFL when it comes to taking the ball away. For once, Tom Brady is actually being carried by his defensive counterparts, and not the other way around. A key reason for the inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball is the merry-go-round at wide receiver, having signed Demaryius Thomas this offseason only to release and then re-sign him, and then trade him away to the New York Jets after signing Antonio Brown -- who was released two weeks after joining the club.
Josh Gordon returned, yes, but his production wasn't up to snuff and the Patriots cut ties with him recently as well. They did land Mohamed Sanu before the trade deadline, but Brady wouldn't mind adding another proven weapon to join Julian Edelman. Enter Bryant, who reeled in over 800 yards receiving and six touchdowns in his most recent season. Currently, the Patriots are 15th in the NFL in total offense, and if they could begin matching the prowess of their league-best defense, they'd likely be unstoppable.
It's the same Patriots organization that found success with a discarded Randy Moss, and tried again with Antonio Brown. Signing a focused and healthy Bryant would not only help propel them further away from the competition, i.e., the Baltimore Ravens, but also help provide a needed ice pack to heal the black eye left by Brown.
If there's anyone who wants to keep Bryant out of the hands of Brady and Bill Belichick, it's the Bills. Currently in the midst of its most impressive season in a long time, Buffalo is 6-2 and not far behind its bitter rival from Foxborough. One of the Bills' biggest issues, however, is lack of a dynamic wide receiver corps. This is why they should drool at the mere thought of adding Bryant to the roster, a veteran presence who could help in the development of Josh Allen. John Brown has established himself as an impact receiver, but not to the point you'd wave off signing Bryant.
Additionally, there's something to be said for recent free-agent signing of Cole Beasley, who just happens to be one of Bryant's best friends after having spent much of their career together with the Cowboys -- also sharing a level of disdain for Dallas. It's possible Beasley is texting Bryant as we speak to put a bug in his ear about Buffalo, who has an unexpected but very real chance to make waves in the playoffs.
To get there, though, they'll need another weapon or two, so it's safe to assume they'd throw Bryant a coat and a call, assuming he doesn't ring their line first.
Here's one that would cause your eyebrow to raise high enough that it'd touch your hairline. You could presume, and justifiably, Bryant won't entertain the thought of playing for the Packers. I mean, it is the organization that dismissed Bryant's Cowboys from the playoffs on two separate occasions, one of which including an overturned play that spawned the eternal debate over whether Bryant caught a long pass from Tony Romo on fourth-and-2 and made a football move before fumbling at the 1-yard-line. That play sticks in the craw of Bryant to this day, but he still wants to play football, and presumably win while doing it -- making a tandem with Aaron Rodgers attractive on some level.
If Bryant can move past the past, the Packers could sure use his services. The return of Davante Adams from toe turf wasn't exactly a stellar one, as he joined Rodgers in what became a beatdown at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9. The receiving corps on the whole hasn't been outright impressive in Green Bay, sans Adams' potency pre-injury, and Bryant would schematically fit like a glove for coach Matt LaFleur.
It's a picture Cowboys fans would loathe to even imagine, but, say Cheese?
Speaking of shrapnel left in the wake of Antonio Brown, the Raiders were the first to give him a chance at re-establishing his brand when they traded away a third- and fifth-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers to land him. For their efforts, they got a mountain of off-putting headlines and not a single snap played in return, leaving them without a dynamic No. 1 wideout yet again. They've turned things around nonetheless, but when a tight end not named Rob Gronkowski leads the team in receiving, there's a concern over if that is a success that can be sustained and if it can overpower the more dominant defenses (ahem, Patriots) in the league.
Darren Waller is a great talent, mind you, but Bryant would join a Raiders organization ready to take a risk on him and in dire want of what he'd bring to the table. His football passion would mesh instantly with coach Jon Gruden, a fireball himself that thrives on fiery players who want to win, and quarterback Derek Carr would garner a big target to tandem with Tyrell Williams. Currently ranked 15th in the NFL with an average of just 245.2 passing yards, welcoming Bryant makes a ton of sense.
For his part, if he's trying to avoid the cold in the northeast while still having a shot at the playoffs, there's something to be said for a team readying to soon play in sunny Las Vegas.
"No you didn't, Patrik." -- You, probably
Yes, I did, and here's why. If it's one thing the Eagles have struggled with this season outside of a secondary under siege by injury and poor play, it's the inconsistency of what they've gotten from their wide receivers. Nelson Agholor has drawn rightful criticism for drops and lack of effort, and Alshon Jeffery has found himself in the headlines for allegedly criticizing Carson Wentz en route to having only 353 receiving yards and three touchdowns in nine games played. Tight end Zach Ertz is truly the only consistent and dynamic threat in the unit, and Bryant would add instant oomph -- both in production and passion.
As it stands, the Eagles have righted their ship and remain only 1.5 games back of a Cowboys team that embarrassed them on Sunday Night Football, and nothing would scream revenge like Bryant joining them to help track down a club that he feels made the mistake of throwing him away. He's repeatedly made it clear he would never sign with the Eagles, though, so there's that. Then again, didn't Brett Favre also play for the Vikings after feeling slighted by the Packers?
Don't rule this out, yet.
It's Christian McCaffrey's world and we're all just living in it. He's a workhorse for the Panthers and easily the most dangerous running back in the NFL right now, but also because he's equally terrifying as a receiver. His performances aside, there hasn't been a truly dominant pure wideout in Charlotte who can take over a game since Steve Smith Sr. was sent packing six years ago, and the team still wears the poor decision named Kelvin Benjamin. Former first-round pick D.J. Moore is building a solid sophomore campaign after an inconsistent rookie year, but while he leads the team in receiving, he has but one touchdown. Curtis Samuel has more, but only three through the first eight games.
Granted, the change at quarterback impacts some of this, with Kyle Allen landing the job as starter that he'll keep the remainder of the year -- -- but the fact remains the Panthers need more touchdowns from their wideouts. Bryant could help in that category, if utilized as both a possession receiver and a red zone threat, with his size creating mismatches for smaller defenders. Sitting at 5-3 and in the throes of pursuing the Saints for the NFC South crown while, at minimum, battling the Eagles, Vikings and Seahawks for a possible wild-card berth, it's time the Panthers start sharpening their claws.
Consider Bryant the emery board.
It's been a dominant defense that has the 49ers taking the league by storm, but lately it's quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense getting in on the act. Much like the Raiders, though, they're led in receiving yards by a tight end, namely George Kittle, and with a disturbing differential of +314 yards. Trading for Emmanuel Sanders is set to help in a big way, with Sanders finding his footing in a 112-yard, one touchdown effort following a 25-yard debut with the team. If the 49ers want to continue their offensive upswing, they'll need more, and Bryant is the more they should seek.
Giving Garoppolo a receiving corps of Kittle, Sanders and Bryant sets the team up to improve upon their 16th-ranked offense, and would force opposing offenses to play more respectfully against the pass. That opens up lanes for Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and the running game as a whole, with one hand finally washing the other in San Francisco.
A balanced team could take the still-undefeated team from Levi's Stadium to another level, and winning is in Bryant's genes.
10. Baltimore Ravens
It was a message sent by the Ravens when they manhandled the previously undefeated Patriots in Week 9, proving they're a Super Bowl contender. The win also pushed quarterback Lamar Jackson into the MVP conversation, with , but most of the Ravens' damage offensively in 2019 is being done on the ground, and not in the air. Jackson and Mark Ingram are both on pace to deliver a 1,000-yard rushing season, but the aerial attack hasn't been as pronounced lately as it was when Jackson threw a record-setting five touchdowns in the season opener.
Granted, the absence of Marquise Brown with injury this season hasn't helped, but although "Hollywood" has now returned, teaming Bryant with Jackson could pay off big-time. Brown is a definitive deep threat while Bryant could provide the "big-bodied" wideout compliment, with Willie Snead injecting impact in needed spots. It's well-known at this point what tight end Mark Andrews can do, but it simply feels like the Ravens passing attack is missing something, and that lack of whatever it is might come back to haunt them when the Patriots seek revenge in January.
The team once took a chance on the aforementioned Steve Smith Sr. and saw him become resurgent because of it, and Bryant is capable of stepping in and becoming a similar force for them in 2019.
Honorable Mention: Kansas City Chiefs
He doesn't care about starting, and that means a possible fit in the pass-heavy offense of the Chiefs, orchestrated by Andy Reid and driven by league MVP Patrick Mahomes. The top spot is unequivocally owned by the dynamic Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins -- who, ironically, was courted by the Cowboys after they opted to release Bryant -- fills in nicely as No. 2, with Travis Kelce being ... well ... Travis Kelce. So where does Bryant fit in here? Right up against Watkins, who has shown a propensity to either take over a game, or disappear from the stat sheet entirely.
Imagining an offense that uses Bryant in rotation with Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman invokes images of a force worthy to derail the Patriots, much like the Ravens did in Week 9, albeit in a different fashion. If the Chiefs can view this as a fit (and it is, if welded correctly), they'd get the added bonus of keeping Bryant out of the hands of the very Patriots we're discussing here. Otherwise, they find themselves trying to stop him in the playoffs, and with Brady throwing him darts.
It's also key to note how Reid sure does love former Cowboys as of late, and while cornerback Orlando Scandrick is no longer on the roster, linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are -- both having spent multiple seasons with Bryant in Dallas.
Like Beasley in Buffalo, it's not hard to assume they'd try to woo him to Kansas City, a place not far from Texas.
Long Shot: Dallas Cowboys
"So you're saying there's a chance?"
Yes, there's a chance, but this is a tough one to reconcile for both parties. Bryant feels he showed unbridled loyalty to the organization in his tenure, and it's well-known how much the team invested in helping to keep him upright after selecting him with a 24th-overall pick, but the divorce in 2018 was so toxic that any talk of a possible reunion requires a HAZMAT suit. In Bryant's dismay over the release -- one which he says owner Jerry Jones was against, but eventually convinced to sign off on -- the team's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns labeled an unspecified group of "Garrett's Guys" as part of the reason he was sent packing, an obvious shot fired at head coach Jason Garrett and those who seemingly toed his line.
Things only got worse from there, with linebacker Sean Lee being labeled "Snake Lee" and for his purported role in the release, and when Bryant finally started to move on -- the inferno was reignited when a quote from team exec Stephen Jones was framed out of context in an interview with Sirius XM last summer.
Recently, emotions had cooled and Bryant was seen taking in a show or two with Jerry Jones at AT&T Stadium, which leaves the door at least cracked in regards to a possible reconciliation, butwon't help it happen. In the end, while Jones would likely welcome a return of Bryant and while Bryant wouldn't mind suiting up for his beloved Cowboys one more time -- there are seemingly too many hurdles to overcome when it comes to Garrett and players Bryant criticized on his way out, that are still on and a key part of the team.
Toss in the addition of Amari Cooper and the emergence of Michael Gallup, and the Cowboys aren't needy anymore at the position. A rotational Bryant could still be impactful in their attempt to make the No. 1 offense in the league that much more potent but, again, the hurdles -- for there are many.
This one isn't impossible but, then again, neither is winning the lottery.