Dez Bryant: Necessity or Luxury?

posted in: Dallas Cowboys, Free Agency | 20
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Our resident scouting superhero, Al, and I have engaged in a discussion through the comments of a couple of different articles here on YDCFF about the value of Dez Bryant to a championship team.

Bryant catch vs Lions

You can read Al’s well-reasoned article here about the need to build the defense in order for the Cowboys to enjoy sustained success. The other half of our discussion was taking place in the comments section of my Cowboy’s season wrap up . Where Al & I disagree is in the value of Dez Bryant as a true number one receiver. Most of his comments are in line with my own opinions about needs on defense with the exception of the fact that I am not sold that Rolando McClain is a must sign. Where my opinion diverges greatly from my esteemed colleague the most is in his assessment of Dez as a receiver. There are some pointed comments by Drew Pearson that are referenced to advance the theory that Bryant hasn’t developed as a route runner and thus has less value.

“He’s not living up to the expectations that were placed on him by wearing that number,” Pearson said.

“Drew Pearson took it to the Ring of Honor level and Michael Irvin took it way beyond that to the Hall of Fame level.”
“When Michael and I had a chance to talk to Dez when he came in his rookie year we told him, ‘Don’t do what Drew Pearson did in it. Don’t do what Michael did in it. Do more than that.’ I know that’s a lot to live up to, but what else is there? You live up to those expectations and people will cherish you for the rest of your life.”

Pearson on Bryant

You can find the full context of Pearson’s comments here. The problem is that those comments are from the summer of 2012 and they were as much about his off field incident that summer with his mother as his on field performance. In reviewing Bryant in 2010, 2011 & even early 2012 there was merit to thinking he was limited in his grasp of the offense and his ability to effectively execute the playbook. I think that assessment of Bryant’s development as a receiver is antiquated. He has had three seasons of growth since those comments were made in which he has become the two most important things a #1 receiver can be: someone the opposition has to game plan multiple defenders to defend regularly and someone who can be trusted to come down with the ball in critical situations against the opponent’s best cover guy.

Al commented that “Odell Beckham was right on his heels as a rookie.”

Bryant & Beckham

By bringing up OBJ, Al actually makes my point. The first comparison that popped into the head of one of the best scouts I know for Dez Bryant is a WR considered a once in generation talent & that is still young enough to continue to get better. I highly respect Al’s eye for talent and I think he is right about both of these young men.

Where I feel it is easy to miss the point is that talent acquisition is about value and value is not determined simply by a certain skill set that an individual evaluator prefers. Value is established by what it costs to replace the player’s skills & production as well as what those skills and production are worth intrinsically. For example, DeMarco Murray’s value is lowered significantly because RB is considered easily replaceable in this current NFL environment. Another way to view that value is by taking a look at one guy we both love, Cole Beasley.

Bryant vs Cole Beasley

Al has been very vocal with his support of the skill set that Beasley provides the Cowboys, to the point of stating that if the team used him as much as Dez he would have top 10 numbers. If that were true, then Dez would absolutely not be worth #1 receiver money. As you can probably guess, I do not agree with this assessment of Beasley. I do love Beasley’s game but his value is based on the fact that the next time he runs a route against an opponent’s #1 corner will be the first. Beasley is phenomenal as a matchup nightmare for 4th corners and 3rd safeties because his high football IQ makes up for his physical limitations against inferior defenders who can’t press him based on where he lines up in the formation. He is a great example of a player that has maximized his God-given ability but to project him as more than that is common scouting mistake in my opinion.

Let’s look at this valuation discussion in another way. Almost every comparable player with Beasley in terms of skill set & usage was obtained by their original team as a UDFA (undrafted free agent). Some examples are Wes Welker, Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola. Julian Edelman is also similar and he was only a 7th round pick. I bet Al’s discerning eye will be able to find at least 2-3 receivers with this same skill set in his scouting work for the 2015 draft. Let’s go back to the first comp that popped up to out veteran scout for Dez. Odell Beckham had the best rookie season of the best rookie WR draft class since 1996 and he projects to continue to grow into his superstar status over the next few years. He was acquired with the most valuable of NFL commodities, a first round pick, as was Dez Bryant himself. If a player’s skill set can be routinely replaced by UDFA’s and 7th round picks then no matter the value of the skill itself, the player has very low value. Conversely, if the skill set can only be replaced by investing 9 million a year or with a 1st round draft pick then that player’s value is extremely high.

What Dez Bryant’s value should be based upon is the cost to required for a replacement for EVERYTHING he does for the Cowboys. A top receiver is absolutely more valuable than a top running back when reviewed in terms of replacement cost. #1 receivers on their second contract average around 9 million per year. The legitimate question Al’s article brings up is this: “what is the value of a #1 receiver to a championship contender?” This is a great question and for the answer I look to the team after which Jason Garrett is modeling this current squad. Those 90’s Cowboys were built to play fast & take the ball away on defense with a stud #1 RB and a stud #1 WR & an ultra accurate QB. Sound familiar?

Irvin & Bryant

I know many people whose opinions I respect, like Al, think the Cowboys can make do without Dez. I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t think Bryant is being overvalued. In fact, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how important he is to the team’s success. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and everyone in that locker room says he sets the tone for the entire team every day in practice much like that stud #1 WR (Michael Irvin) did in the 90’s. That alone makes him extremely valuable to the team’s success because his intensity in preparation makes all of his teammates prepare that much harder.

One of my biggest complaints about the Cowboys over the previous decade is that they had talented players and even leaders but no lead DOGS. No one whose intensity ratcheted up the play of the rest of the team. That is what Irvin was for those teams and that is what Bryant is now to this team. Add to that, unrivaled athleticism as demonstrated by the catch shown in the picture above and the featured image for this article and we have a player that brings a passion and skill set that I feel is vital to the Cowboys ability to compete for championships in the waning years of the Romo era.

Where do you fall in this discussion? Is Dez Bryant a luxury or a necessity for the Cowboys moving forward?

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  • Gabriel Carrasco

    I believe he’s both. He takes away coverage, but very few of the elite teams had an elite WR.

  • Al

    When jerry built that 90s team there was no cap. That team had the #1 defense. Pearson said this year on the fan that dez needs to step up his game. I am will put Bease up against any NFL cb in the slot running the option. U cant sacrifice 3 starters for 1 wr and Go far in the modern NFL this coaching staff has no clue how to utilize the weapons they have and not only get tony killed trying to force deep vertical routes to dez it results in too many 3 and outs.

    • MercWithaMouth

      this coaching staff has no clue how to utilize the weapons they have—

      A year ago I would have agreed with you and although 1 year doesn’t necessarily mean it’s changed… You didn’t watch much Cowboys football if you think this… Now I agree at times some guys could have been utilized more they certainly did a better job than they have in the past…

      That said, as much as I love Dez, if it was a question of $9 million, there is no question, but, if he is demanding $14 million a year than I say they need to use the exclusive franchise tag and see if you can’t find a team to bite on him for 2 first rounders.

      • Al

        They only use Beasley on 18% of the snaps and on quick outs and shallow crosses. He can run all the routes. Dunbar is a legitimate threat out of the backfield and Hannah’s quickness is a mismatch nightmare as well. This coaching staff calls too many deep vertical routes that take too long to develop getting Tony abused. They have the perfect weapons to extend drives by using the short passing game as an extension to the run. That forces teams to focus there which in turn sets up the big play down the field.Smart coaches run a QB friendly offense that allows the QB to get rid of the ball quickly. Tony takes too many hits because they run so many deep routes.

        • MercWithaMouth

          Ok, now that I have no disagreements with at all… To me this season was a huge improvement over previous years and I truly believe the best is yet to come now that Linehan is returning(or maybe I’ve had too much blue koolaid)… With another season for Linehan to work his system in(and Garrett’s out) I believe we will see many more adjustments that will be beneficial to this offense. It seemed to me Beasley had an increasing role as the season wore on(he had 59% of his catches after the bye week) and I expect that will continue throughout next season especially if we don’t see Murray return.

  • Al

    The pats have 14 consecutive winning seasons and in their 4 the straight championship choosing Beasley’s skill set for all of Bradys #1 targets do ya think belichick doesn’t know something red is too dumb to figure out?