A lesson in leverage courtesy of Stephen Jones
Everyone is weighing in on the Dez Byrant release. This might come as a shock to the casual fan. Unfortunately, the name Dez Bryant is bigger than his production and paycheck warranted. For those who were paying attention, this decision was an inevitability.
Stephen Jones created a blueprint that every general manager should follow and it can be summed up in one word, leverage. Don’t believe the idea that they just cut ties with Dez without any offer to renegotiate. The Cowboys wanted him back at a reduced rate given the leverage they created with yesterday’s meeting.
Elements of Great Leverage
There are a few factors that create strong leverage for or against a party when negotiating. Those factors include: performance (past and future), price and timing. For the most part, these are the key elements of every negotiation and combine to create leverage for one side or the other. So, let’s review how each of these factors played a role in the Dez Bryant release.
For those who didn’t know, Dez Bryant has not been good the past three seasons. You can read the details Dez’s lack of production by our own Kenneth Hesse here, so I’ll give you the cliff notes. Dez Bryant has missed four or more games twice in the last four seasons. He also failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving the last three seasons and has not scored more than eight touchdowns since 2014.
Given that information, it seems like Dez would be poised for a rebound as Dak Prescott continues to get better, right? Well, let’s consider his age. Bryant is 29 years old, the same age as Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and AJ Green.
Those other receivers have been producing at a consistent level and have remained relatively healthy. These players have also proved that they have tremendous skill to complement their physical abilities.
It was announced earlier this off-season that Dez was going to “work on his route running” with a personal coach. That would be great, if he were 24 and still possessed elite physical talent. It’s ironic that Dez only offered to further work on his craft when his job was in question. So, given his previous production, health and skill set, Dez does not project well into the future as his physical skills decline further.
This was probably the biggest factor in the Dez Bryant release. Bryant signed a 5-year, $70 Million contract in 2015. He would have counted against the salary cap for $16,500,000 this year and next. Clearly, he does not warrant that kind of payment. His cap, among other wide receivers, was the third highest in the NFL. Dez Bryant, in no statistical category, is a top three, five, or ten wide receiver. To summarize, the Dez Bryant release was the result of a depreciating asset that was no longer worth the cost of keeping.
The first two elements are obvious. However, this is the key factor that made the Dez Bryant release great and gave the Cowboys all the leverage in this negotiation. As stated earlier, the Cowboys didn’t want to cut Dez Bryant outright. They wanted to bring him back at a reduced rate and here’s why.
First, what incentive did the Cowboys have to hold onto Dez this long? They could have allocated the extra $8.5 Million they saved by cutting him, to another player in free agency. Here are some players that signed contracts this off-season who could have helped the Cowboys and count for $8.5 Million or less against the salary cap: Sheldon Richardson, Michael Crabtree, TJ Carrie, and Tyrann Mathieu. If they truly did not think Dez would be part of their 2018 plans, they would never have waited until this late in free agency to do so.
Second, Jerry Jones has been loyal to a fault with his star players, especially Dez Bryant. Jones does everything in his power to take care of his stars. He desperately wanted to keep Dez. If he didn’t, he would have released Dez at the start of free agency so that he could have the best opportunity possible to sign with another team.
And finally, Stephen Jones wanted to create as small of a market as possible for Dez if they were to release him, which is exactly what happened. The majority of NFL teams have finished their major free agent acquisitions and have turned their attention to the draft. Meaning, teams don’t have the cap space or potential roster space to sign a player like Dez, even if they wanted to. This scenario pressured Dez into taking a pay cut, and thus, gave Stephen Jones and the Cowboys all the leverage in this situation.
In short, this was a good decision. The Dez Bryant release sends two signals, one to Dak Prescott and one to Ezekiel Elliott. This move tells Prescott that he no longer has to deal with Dez and his constant chirping for the ball. It wasn’t Prescott’s fault that Dez only caught 52 percent of his targets. And, it tells Ezekiel Elliott that this offense will unequivocally run through him. Cowboys fans should notice a more relaxed and confident Dak Prescott in 2018.
Featured Image courtesy of USA Today