I have a little friendly advice for Dez Bryant: Don't even consider playing football until August.
At this point, it's as close as you will come to having any leverage. And even then the money you want won't be there, and it may not be with the team you prefer, either. But that's your reality, it isn't going to change and the best chance you have to make the best of your plot is to wait out the inevitable crushing injuries that will invariably befall some receivers across the league.
Sometimes, you are the hammer. And sometimes you're the nail. In this current NFL marketplace – with the Cowboys doing you no favors by releasing you so late after the free-agency gravy train had dried up, and with your agents letting you down by letting the cumbersome process drag on so long – you are left in an untenable situation. The money ain't there and by and large it ain't coming back. The need isn't there, at least not yet. And especially after a slew of young and spry – and, most importantly, cheap – receivers were just drafted into teams around the league, the numbers game is not working in your favor right now.
Bottom line is those advising Bryant either grossly mismanaged their assessment of the market and/or grossly mismanaged their client's expectations, but either way if the former Pro Bowl receiver is upset at anything or anyone, it should start with them. Yeah, I'd also have plenty of animosity for Jerry Jones, who dragged Bryant around on his roster for months before finally releasing him on April 13, well after a slew of far lesser receivers had already been overpaid on the free-agent market. But then again, it was beyond obvious that Jones had no intentions of paying Bryant the $12.5M his contract called for, and the lack of a roster bonus or any sort of trigger earlier in free agency that would have forced Dallas to make a speedier decision on releasing the veteran turned out to be dire for his earning potential.
The timing was always going to be dicey, which made being proactive paramount. The draft was mere weeks away, the market was about to get flooded with guys who do play special teams and are younger and healthier and in most cases, faster, than what Bryant can provide, and the moments teams like the Saints addressed their pass-catching situations in the draft Bryant's value took another significant blow. And while I would agree with him that going to Baltimore – with a lame-duck quarterback and potential lame-duck coaching staff and an offense that has been going in reverse for years – was suboptimal, and he wasn't interested in multi-year deals, the way in which that overture was handled did the former star no favors, either.
Desperately wish you had a 30-minutes-or-so, daily NFL podcast in your podcast app every morning by 6 a.m.? Put some Pick Six Podcast in your life and join Will Brinson as he breaks down the latest news and notes from around the league, as well as the via iTunes | via Stitcher | via TuneIn | via Google Play. It's a daily dose of football to get you right for that commute or gym trip. Subscribe:
And so now it is a waiting game and, in reality, a matter of outside factors needing to conspire to put the player in a position to maximize whatever money might be out there for him – which means, in all likelihood, a team or teams losing a receiver for the season in upcoming OTAs or mini camps or, most likely, the preseason. It's going to happen, sadly. Just a matter of where and when.
Even then, with Bryant being looked at more like an Anquan Boldin type now by NFL evaluators – a guy who can play power forward and win on the inside to move the chains by boxing out and getting body position – than as someone who can readily beat defenses down the sidelines, I suspect the margins are tight. Landing anything close to $10M a season is folly; maybe – maybe – with incentives he has the opportunity to earn half of that on a team with a legit shot at winning something this season, and with a quarterback who can help Bryant thrive in what will be a prove-it contract situation.
But the teams most likely willing to take a bigger gamble on him already cast their lot to the tune of big money to guys like Donte Moncrief (Jacksonville), Michael Crabtree (Baltimore) and Jordy Nelson (Oakland), and now is not a good time to be a 29-year-old receiver coming off three straight seasons below 850 receiving yards and with injury issues and who clearly wore out his welcome in Dallas for other reasons, as well.
So at this point, forget about spring football, don't even fret the start of training camp and wait for the market to change, because outside of teams getting quickly thin at the receiver spot, it's hard to envision suitors jumping forward now. Ask Adrian Peterson. He's going through it for the second year in a row.
Total stagnation in the safety market
I wrote weeks ago about teams basically ignoring the vast majority of the safety market, seemingly out of fear that if they signed everyone other than Eric Reid – who quickly joined Colin Kaepernick during his pregame demonstrations – than it would be totally obvious that they were just blackballing Reid. Hence, total stagnation at a position that remains stocked with quality talent. It continues to baffle the agents of guys like Kenny Vaccaro, Ron Parker, Tre Boston, Corey Graham and others.
"They are basically avoiding everyone because they're ignoring Reid," as one agent for a top safety put it. "That's exactly how I am looking at it, absolutely. Our guy hasn't done anything like that in his past and neither have most of these guys. But that's exactly what we think is going on here. They just shut the safety market down entirely, and the guy who got paid, by and large, didn't make much."
Proving salary collusion is difficult at best, but the word has been thrown around in agent circles regarding parts of this year's market.
"It's the most asinine thing I've ever seen," the agent continued, "that you can tell us that this group of safeties aren't worth signing, period, at this point. And saying maybe some other guys have turned down $2M or $2.5M, but we have a pretty damn good safety and we haven't even seen money like that on the table. I know for our guy, we haven't had a contract offer at all; not one on paper and only one verbal offer, and that offer was for the league minimum with a split and no guaranteed money. So that's not even an offer; that's an insult. For these guys to have no jobs right now you can't tell me 'that's just the market.' That's BS."
- Recently caught up at length with an agent who represents top quarterbacks and we both agreed that Aaron Rodgers is probably looking at $110M fully guaranteed over the first three years of his new contract, and that may be underselling it. I have a hard time seeing the Packers escape that reality and even harder time seeing Rodgers agree to anything less than that with two years on his current deal. The Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins deals virtually assure it. ...
- Reached out to a longtime CFL personnel man about Johnny Manziel's transition to the league. Suffice to say, that was a bare-bones, backup QB contract that the former Heisman Trophy winner agreed to, and his climb to actually merit playing time in 2018 could be significant. If anything, 2019 might be more of a stage for him to present himself to NFL scouts, and even that is only if everything goes well on the field and off. "They will start the other quarterback to open the season. They signed him to a bigger contract in the offseason. If he falters early then maybe Manziel gets a shot." The acclimation to the rules and larger field will take time and, regardless, the two-year contract is pretty iron clad, so no use opining anymore about the long-troubled quarterback and the NFL until 2020. I give him a lot of credit for basically playing for nothing guaranteed in Hamilton, far out of the limelight, and wish him best. But it's still going to be a long road back.