FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dez Bryant never lived up to the big contract he signed with the Dallas Cowboys when he was among the best receivers in the NFL.
If the franchise leader in touchdown catches is going to find his 2014 All-Pro form again, it will be with another team.
The Cowboys released Bryant on Friday, deciding salary-cap relief and declining production from one of their biggest stars outweighed the risk of him proving them wrong by becoming a Pro Bowl player again somewhere else.
And Bryant used Twitter to make it clear that he will be trying.
“If I didn’t have my edge, I’ve got it now,” he wrote among a flurry of tweets over two days, starting the day before a meeting where owner and general manager Jerry Jones told him he was being released. “It’s very personal.”
The 29-year-old Bryant signed a $70 million, five-year deal after leading the NFL with 16 touchdowns in 2014. But he didn’t have a 1,000-yard season in three years under the big contract, and just played all 16 games without a 100-yard day for the first time in his eight-year career.
Bryant was owed $12.5 million on each of the last two years of his deal, with a $16.5 million salary cap hit both times. The release clears about $8.5 million in cap space.
“This was not an easy decision,” Jones said. “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.”
Jones’ statement was more fodder for Bryant, who tweeted, “Key words in this statement.. Several input.. something I already knew.”
Bryant and Jones had a unique relationship because of the trouble that surrounded the receiver early in his career. Off-field concerns were the reason the Cowboys got him; he slid to near the bottom of the first round of the 2010 draft. Dallas traded up three spots to get him.
Before the three most prolific seasons of his career, when Bryant averaged 1,312 yards and nearly 14 touchdowns per year, he got tangled in lawsuits over unpaid jewelry bills and had a baggy pants incident with police at an upscale Dallas mall.
The most serious problem was a domestic incident involving his mother in 2012, with Bryant pleading guilty and eventually having the charge dismissed when he stayed out of trouble for a year.
Bryant also was a distraction throughout his career with sideline rants, even admitting late last season that he let frustrations affect him during perhaps his most difficult year in the league. He said some of the frustration was rooted in the offensive scheme.
“He will always be a valued member of our family,” Jones said in his statement. “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.”
With 73 touchdown catches, Bryant tops a Dallas list that includes Hall of Fame receivers Bob Hayes (71) and Michael Irvin (65). Tight end Jason Witten, who is getting ready for his 16th season, has 68 career TD catches.
A dramatic dip in production started when Bryant broke his foot in the opener in 2015, a year after he helped the Cowboys win the NFC East and just their second playoff game since the last of the franchise’s five Super Bowls following the 1995 season.
Bryant battled injuries each of the past two years as well, but when healthy he wasn’t the same receiver who had the famous catch that wasn’t against Green Bay in a loss that kept the Cowboys out of the NFC championship game three years ago. He was second in the NFL with 11 drops last season, according to sportradar.
After getting 56 of his touchdowns in his first five seasons, Bryant had 17 his last three with the Cowboys.
Bryant never found the same on-field rapport with Dak Prescott that he had with Tony Romo, who lost his job during Prescott’s remarkable rookie season after Romo injured his back in the preseason in 2016. Romo was released last offseason and retired.
“Cowboy nation I need you to know this wasn’t my decision.. I will always love y’all... forever Dallas in my heart,” Bryant wrote in one post, which came only minutes after he tweeted, “let’s start the process” in a reference to free agency.
The Cowboys left little doubt they were in the market for receivers in free agency, adding Allen Hurns after the four-year pro was released by Jacksonville. Six-year journeyman Deonte Thompson was another addition.
While Hurns is the most likely candidate to be the No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys could take a wideout in the first round for the first time since getting Bryant.
“No one will understand the love and the passion you have for the game,” DeMarcus Lawrence wrote as one of several now-former teammates to reach out to Bryant on Twitter. “Wish you nothing but the best! I know you’ll be throwing up the X soon enough!”
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