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Why did the Cowboys release Dez Bryant? Contract, injuries led to abrupt end to Dallas career



Dez Bryant welcomes his former team to Baltimore on Tuesday night to close out Week 13.

The Cowboys play the Ravens in a rescheduled game that presents Bryant’s first contest against Dallas since his release in April 2018. That cut set off a bumpy journey for Bryant, who dealt with a torn Achilles in 2018 and wasn’t signed by any team in 2019. He only returned to NFL action in November 2020 thanks to an opportunity with the Ravens, and Bryant has played a role each of the last two weeks, suggesting he could see action against the Cowboys.

Bryant spent eight years with the Cowboys before his release, which came after the star wide receiver refused to take a pay cut. 

“For the most part, it’s water under the bridge,” Bryant said, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “That’s two years. I had time to get myself together. You got to go forward with life because life isn’t going to wait on you. Time waits on no one. I had to get myself together and move forward.”

Here’s more about the steps that led to Bryant’s release from Dallas and his eventual arrival in Baltimore. 

MORE: How Dez Bryant made his NFL return nearly 3 years after Cowboys release

Why did the Cowboys release Dez Bryant?

Bryant played his final Cowboys season in 2017. He caught 69 passes and hauled in six touchdowns. But following that season, in an April meeting, Dallas owner Jerry Jones let Bryant know the team would be releasing him

After the release, Bryant tweeted, “Cowboys nation I need you to know this wasn’t my decision.”

The move shaped up as a financial one. Bryant had made clear that he didn’t want to take a pay cut, according to Ian Rapoport, meaning his cap hit for both 2018 and 2019 would be $16.5 million per season, an immense cost for a declining, aging wideout. Bryant had secured such a contract a season after catching 88 passes for 1,320 passes and a league-best 16 touchdowns. The Cowboys gave him a five-year, $70-million deal, which made sense as Bryant entered his age-27 season but quickly became an overpay.

Justifying the payment of such a salary to Bryant was further complicated because he’d dealt with health problems in his final three years with the Cowboys. Overall, he missed 10 games across 2015 and 2016 before suiting up for every game in 2017. The injuries — a foot and ankle fracture followed by a knee fracture — sapped Bryant of speed, making him more of a big-bodied possession receiver and less of an all-around threat.

Jones released a statement after Bryant’s release:

“As an organization we hold Dez Bryant in the highest regard, and we are grateful for his passion, spirit and contributions to this team for the past eight years. He will always be a valued member of our family.

Dez and I share a personal and professional relationship that is very strong, and he is one of just a handful of players with whom I have become that close to over the past 30 years.

This was not an easy decision. It was made based upon doing what we believe is in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys.

We arrived at this crossroad collectively with input from several voices within the organization. Ultimately we determined it was time to go in a new direction.”

Prior to the release, Jones’ son Stephen said that keeping Bryant at his current cost would be a “tough one.” And soon before the release, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote, “Bryant’s struggle to adjust to playing at a different speed has disappointed the team.”

Bryant also gave an interview to NFL Network after the release, in which he appeared to criticize the coaching staff playing favorites which Bryant called the “(Jason) Garrett guys“: “I won’t put no names out, but they know and I want them to know. I know. I’ll shoot them a text message and let them know. Little do they know is, you know, they can wear that “C” all they want to, but in that locker room, they know they run and they talk to. They know who they communicate with. Everybody knows where the real love is at. I’m not throwing anybody under the bus, but that’s the difference between me and them.”

At the time, Bryant’s release simply made sense. He was no longer worth the money he was due, and he wasn’t willing to take a pay cut. Based on what’s happened since, it seems that Dallas shouldn’t have major regrets about letting Bryant go.

What happened to Dez Bryant after Dallas release?

Between Bryant’s April 2018 release by the Cowboys and Nov. 1, 2020, he didn’t play a regular-season NFL snap. He was a free agent for seven months following the cut before signing a deal with the Saints in November 2018. But Bryant tore his Achilles tendon two days after signing with New Orleans, meaning he was staring a year-long absence in the face.

The Saints indicated an interest in bringing Bryant back in 2019, but that never came to be. Bryant joined a Dallas radio show while out with his injury and said, “I can’t end like this.”

A year after his injury, in November 2019, Bryant expressed an interest in returning, but no one signed him. Reports leading into the 2020 season suggested that Bryant was getting workouts with teams, including the Ravens, but none signed him before Week 1.

Baltimore chose to sign Bryant to its practice squad on Oct. 27. There wasn’t an obvious reason for the signing, although Bryant lends a tall receiver presence that the Ravens have lacked with Lamar Jackson at the helm. 

Bryant’s Baltimore debut came Nov. 8, although he didn’t catch any passes that day. Entering Week 13 of 2020, Bryant only had one game with catches for the Ravens — four receptions and 28 yards against the Titans in Week 11.

Dez Bryant career stats

Bryant’s stats below are entering Week 13 of the 2020 NFL season.

Career: 

  • Receptions: 535
  • Receiving yards: 7,487
  • Receiving touchdowns: 73

Single-season bests:

  • Receptions: 93 (2013)
  • Receiving yards: 1,382 (2012)
  • Receiving touchdowns: 16 (2014)

Dez Bryant career timeline

April 2010 – Cowboys draft Bryant with the 24th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma State.

2014 – Bryant concludes a three-season stretch in which he caught at least 88 passes for more than 1,200 yards and at least 12 touchdowns in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

July 15, 2015 – Cowboys sign Bryant to an extension of five years and $70 million.

2015 season – Bryant has worst season of his career, missing seven games due to injury and catching a career-low 31 passes.

April 13, 2018 – Cowboys cut Bryant.

Nov. 8, 2019 – Saints sign Bryant to a one-year deal.

Nov. 10, 2019 – New Orleans places Bryant on Injured Reserve after he tore his Achilles.

Oct. 27, 2020 – Ravens sign Bryant to their practice squad.

Nov. 8, 2020 – Bryant returns to an NFL active roster for gameday in Week 9 with Baltimore.

Nov. 22, 2020 – Bryant catches four passes for 28 yards for Baltimore, his first recorded stats for the Ravens and since leaving Dallas.





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