The events of the last few days in the life and times of Dez Bryant bring into focus one clear reminder that was front and center 27 months ago when the Cowboys went out of their way to select the talented wide receiver; That there was a significant risk to selecting him and if the Cowboys were to do so, they would have to ignore a number of red flags that many organizations simply were not willing to do.
No team in the last two decades seems more willing to play with fire than Jerry Jones and his Cowboys. And while sometimes it turns out to be typecasting, stereotyping, or misinformation, other times it is Dez Bryant.
Bryant, as the media has pointed out on a number of occasions in the last 48 hours, has never been arrested before. OK, that’s great. But, in the 27 months since the Cowboys have employed this young man, he has generated more headlines than the rest of the team combined. Reports of unpaid bills over here, and reports of a missed meeting over there. Questions about whether he knows the playbook and questions about whether he knows that very few good things can happen at 2 am in a nightclub.
He is everything you hope to avoid when you are trying to run a football team made up of men. One of the complimentary phrases that is repeatedly used when describing a veteran who has his act together is that someone is a “pro’s pro”. It is reserved for the guy that requires no babysitting or maintenance. You signed a football player, and you received one. He is a man’s man and he takes care of his business without you gently waking him in the morning to insure that he will find the trainer’s room in the morning when he scheduled to do so.
But, with Bryant, it is quite the opposite. Paying someone to usher him through life is exactly what they have done. He has missed countless appointments and has even been locked out of a team meeting for being late. He has not always been familiar with his assignments and has of course offered the occasional sideline temper tantrum to top it all off because he is not getting the ball when and where he sees fit.
The talent is unmistakable. Of course, it is. For if it wasn’t, then why would he be worth this amount of trouble? Why would the team hitch their wagon to his train, living and dying on his big performances because they are so leveraged on making sure it works out. He gets into a domestic situation and instead of thinking things through as if any citizen just did what he is alleged to have done, we are left to wonder about the shallow nature of his position on the Cowboys’ depth chart. Fully realizing that if he or Miles Austin is lost for even a fraction of the season, the Cowboys fortunes could go up in smoke before they even leave the starting gate in 2012.
I clearly remember the narratives of the 2010 draft. Locally, it was thought to be a given that Dez would be the Cowboys pick. Allegedly, Jerry Jones was still reminiscing about the “mistake” he made in 1998 when he didn’t take Randy Moss. Why was he scared off by the red flags? Why did the warning signs that Randy Moss would always be a high maintenance player who will sprinkle in many highlights with petulance and narcissism scare off the Cowboys? Why? We shall never make that well-grounded football decision about our highly compensated investments ever again.
So, they assure themselves that David Wells and the team in place to “advise” (or sometimes babysit) the Bryant franchise makes it a worthy investment and rush to the podium by trading up to get their guy. And from draft day 2010 until today, it has always been something.
Oh sure, this is first arrest. But, it is always something. Missed meeting. Missed treatment. Missed hot route. Missed autograph signing. Disagreement with the police here, disagreement with security there. Unpaid bills, contracts with clothing companies gone bad, lawsuits, and on and on and on.
What has been interesting over the last 12 months or so is the frankness with which Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones have started speaking about Dez. They are more than willing to go to the media with challenges to the young lad to grow up and take care of his business. They have tried coddling and now they have adjusted it over to somewhat tougher love – at least in various interviews where they ask him to step up his game and career to the next level. Basically, to stop making them look silly and start making them look smart for believing in him.
We have all been told countless times that by trade, Jerry is a speculator who made his fortune on seeing black gold in the ground (Wildcatting for oil) when everyone else looked at the same thing and saw garbage. He would gamble and not play carefully. He would push his chips all in and be the guy at the auction that would not be afraid to push the limits. He knew how to win big in high stakes gaming.
And then, with great ease, he translated that to the football field. He showed one legend the exit and brought in a college coach when others talked about how that doesn’t work in the NFL. He oversaw the most lopsided trade and heist in the history of the National Football League. All he did is find success to the tune of 3 World Titles before 6 years had passed. Man, this gambling is working out great!
He worked the system and understood how to get an edge. Then, the stains of public controversy started invading Valley Ranch and the winning stopped simultaneously. And from then until now, Jerry has been going in one big circle of trusting his gut, getting burned, changing his ways, not liking it, and going back to trusting his gut all over again.
So, this version of gut-trusting is now Dez Bryant as Dez enters his 3rd season. He has delivered glimpses and an overall performance record that is actually quite reasonable given comparables around the league. But, the “it will always be something with this guy” prediction has come through as advertised.
It is always something with Dez. If he was a model player, then you could get over his issues off the field (see countless examples). If he was a model citizen, you could get over his occasional issues on the field (see countless other examples). But, sadly, he is neither at this point. A guy who is not where he is supposed to be on the field when it matters most, and a guy who makes Jerry Jones cringe when the phone rings late at night.
He can be as good as he wants to be. This is a cliché that is often used for this type of athlete. Blessed with the tools and intangibles to dominate at the highest levels, but not consistent or dependable enough in the way he sees life to ever fully realize it.
And now, with rumors rampant about the Cowboys intentions when contract time arrives, we are reminded again why sometimes it makes good business sense not to gamble. When the rest of the NFL won’t touch a guy because of questionable character, maybe there is a solid reason or rationale. Maybe, because of some of these traits, he just will never be worth the trouble. Maybe, going against the crowd can go wrong.
He can still be something special here in Dallas, but it seems more undetermined than ever before as these speculative projections of life with Dez have become a reality with each passing headline. And make no mistake, you visit with anyone inside the organization off the record and you will be assured that these issues are not a figment of the media’s imagination.
Time will continue to tell, but if it continues at this rate, we will have yet another cautionary tale to put in the books about Jerry being Jerry and how that wildcatting is not always the best strategy in the NFL.