It took a lot for Dez Bryant to return to an NFL field. It was a journey that began with a heartbreaking and unexpected release from his beloved Dallas Cowboys following the 2017 season, followed by a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints that was ended two days after he joined the team in November -- the three-time Pro Bowler suffering a torn Achilles in practice. He'd remain out of football as he recovered physically and mentally from what was the worst calendar year in his record-setting football career, before joining the Baltimore Ravens in 2020.
Bryant eventually worked his way up from the Ravens practice squad to the active roster, thanks to chemistry with former league MVP Lamar Jackson, going on to deliver two touchdowns in six games played. As the 32-year-old readies to enter free agency yet again, he does so without a thought toward retiring, or at least not quite yet.
"I plan on playing 2 more years and that's it for me," he said, via Twitter.
Having shown the league he still has tread left on his tires, Bryant didn't see a ton of playing time with the Ravens, and so he was forced to do what he could with the reps he was given. The All-Pro played in only 13 percent of Baltimore's offensive snaps -- a far cry from the 84 percent he logged in his final year with the Cowboys -- but he's made it clear that didn't bother him in the least. He is instead thankful for the opportunity given him by head coach John Harbaugh but, that said, he's also not returning for a second season.
"I will speak on my personal experience. I was in a position where everything was already established," Bryant said, noting his role in Baltimore as more of an add-on than a starter. "I took advantage of getting myself right. I realized quick Baltimore wasn't the place for me.
"[There's] no bad blood. That's their way of doing things, so you gotta respect it.."
It's a graceful exit from the Ravens -- a team that finished last in passing and targeted Bryant only twice in the postseason -- one that sees Bryant mature enough to both recognize he was a square peg in a round hole, while showing gratitude on his way out.
"No OTAs, no mini camp and coming in midway through the season is not normal," he added. "I wasn't bothered about playing time. I enjoyed myself [and] I met some great teammates -- guys I feel like I will be keeping in contact for a long time. I'm thankful for the opportunity Baltimore gave me."
As for what's next, well, Bryant believes he's at least shown enough to warrant a 2021 contract somewhere, before he hangs up his cleats in a couple years and readies for the Cowboys coveted Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame consideration.