Sammy Watkins will join the Kansas City Chiefs on a three-year, $48 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. Allen Robinson, coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, will be off to the Chicago Bears with a three-year, $42 million deal.
Paul Richardson will become an NFC East rival with a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed from the Washington Redskins. Marqise Lee opted to stay with the Jacksonville Jaguars with a four-year deal that included $18 million guaranteed. Donte Moncrief is also joining the Jaguars. John Brown is joining the Baltimore Ravens.
And on and on and on.
Until the contracts get filed, these might be paper deals, but Watkins’ deal averages $16 million per season, and Robinson’s averages $14 million. Richardson’s pact averages $8 million a year despite the fact that his career high in receptions in a season is 44.
Bryant is scheduled to make $12.5 million a year for the next two seasons with the Cowboys.
While that can’t be considered a bargain, especially with his drop in production the past three seasons, Bryant’s agents have a better argument to support their claims the contract follows the market.
The Cowboys were in the mix for Watkins, willing to pay a high price for the former No. 4 overall pick in the draft and hoping the presence of his former Buffalo Bills position coach, Sanjay Lal, could sway the receiver’s decision.
They just weren’t willing to give him $16 million per season; not coming off a season when he caught 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. They would have been in the eight-figure territory but not to the point where Watkins is one of the top-five paid receivers.
Free agency makes teams do funky things. The Cowboys have resisted that urge since giving Brandon Carr a five-year, $50 million deal in 2012. Carr is an interesting case study when it comes to Bryant.
In 2015, the prevailing belief was the Cowboys would force Carr to take a pay cut. The topic was broached at the Senior Bowl, the NFL scouting combine and the owners meetings. His agent was asked about it continuously.
And nothing happened. Carr played out the season on an $8 million base salary and a cap figure of nearly $13 million.
The following year, the final season of his contract, Carr took a pay cut with his $9.1 million base salary knocked down to $4.25 million.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones has been on record saying the Cowboys will need to look at Bryant’s contract. He is set to count $16.5 million against the cap. The production has not matched the pay for whatever the reason, but the Cowboys have yet to have any conversations with Bryant’s agent regarding a reworked deal.
(It must be noted a restructured contract is not the same as a pay cut. A restructured contract does not take any money out of a player’s pocket. It is simply an accounting tool that gives the team a salary-cap benefit. The Cowboys did not restructure Bryant’s contract last year because they did not want his future cap hits to become exorbitant, so restructuring this year would not bring much benefit.)
By releasing Bryant, the Cowboys can save $8.5 million against the cap or $12.5 million against the cap if he is designated a post-June 1 cut.
The Cowboys could opt to put the squeeze on Bryant now that these deals have come in. But, plenty of cap room remains across the league where the receiver could still cash in with a deal higher than what the Cowboys want to pay him from another team.
Had the Cowboys been able to sign Watkins, Bryant’s time with the team was probably over. The Cowboys would have been younger and faster with Watkins, who they hoped would connect better on the field with quarterback Dak Prescott.
Without a replacement on the roster or potentially on the way in free agency, the decision to move on from Bryant is not impossible. But after Tuesday, it is a little more difficult.