Cowboys + Dez: Punch + Counterpunch

DALLAS - A Cowboys fan expressed on Twitter his admiration for Dez Bryant's devotion to the cause. Dez, aware of COO Stephen Jones' 'tag talk,' responds: 'I wish (the Cowboys) felt the same way but it's cool, it’s business.' It is business. But it's not cool.

Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones says the team is "leaning toward'' using the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant between now and the March 2 deadline to do so.

"Leaning toward'' can be an innocuous phrase or can a verbal hammer, meant to demonstrate power.

Dez' response on Twitter, when his loyalty to the team was noted, reads like this: "I wish (the Cowboys) felt the same way but it's cool, it’s business.''

"It's cool'' and "it's business'' can be innocuous phrases or can be verbal hammers, meant to demonstrate retaliation.

For the moment, "leaning toward'' sounds like a disloyal, strategic gutpunch to Bryant, who under the terms of the tag -- if ensuing negotiation doesn't result in a contract -- would get about $12 million for one season ... and be right back in a similar spot next year, playing for big, short-term money without being offered the trust that comes with what can be a $100-million pact.

For the moment, "it's cool'' and "it's business'' sound like seething and counterpunching, meant to remind of the power that the employee has: Power in the knowledge that Dallas' tag, if not removed during the period of negotiation, eats up cap space unnecessarily. Power to skip offseason work in protest. Power in peeling back a little from the full devotion Bryant believes he's shown the franchise, with which he's planned to be bonded forever.

The Cowboys' bumper-sticker-level plan is the same, which is why we so frequently throw out the "Cowboy For Life'' wording. Meanwhile, we've seen enough of these negotiations to know that public pronouncements and hurt feelings and threats from each side to take their figurative balls and go home are part of the dance.

Some deals are easy; it's why Ron Leary and Darrion Weems are back under contract today, exclusive-rights guys who will make $585,000. Some deals are ... well, like Dez'.

But the Joneses will lose this case in the court of public opinion, Dez' "devotion'' (not to mention his NFL-best 56 TDs since the start of the 2010 season) serving the basis for his "defense.'' And the "prosecution''? It cannot be argued that Bryant is anything short of a top-five (or top-three) receiver, or that Bryant as a "behavioral risk,'' if it's an issue at all, cannot be mitigated by the structure of the Cowboys' long-term deal with him. (An example of details here, along with how to add other talent around Dez.)

Maybe that's why, when the media at the Scouting Combine in Indy circled back to Stephen following Dez' tweet and apparently mentioned "bad vibes,'' the COO took a softer stab at this, saying, "Well, he's not feeling the right vibes, then. We feel strongly about him. We worked hard to do a long-term deal with him, and we'll continue to work hard at it. If we don't get one, then (the tag) just shows him how much we care about him (that) we don't want to expose him."

Smile wrote on Monday of Dallas and Bryant being so close to a contract in October that, according to sources, some of the ancillary paperwork was being worked up inside Valley Ranch.

They can be close again. We remain convinced "close'' will become "closed'' in terms of a long-term deal by the next deadline of July 15. What is clear today? It won't get close or closed without the not-entirely-necessary posturing, pouting and the swinging of verbal hammers.

Onside Kicks

* brings you "10 FishTips.''

*The Cowboys have done it before and won with it. The Patriots do it ... and just won the Super Bowl. With respect to DeMarco, we present the notion of Cowboys running back by committee - along with proof that it works.


*'s We'll help your kids to to Jason Witten's camp!

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