Dez Bryant likes to tell me tales of having been a “hyperactive kid,’’ and that aspect of his personality is unchanged now. When he was little, it was all about playing sports all day in the hot East Texas sun because it was fun.
Now? He is carving his body into football perfection, down from last year's playing weight of 218 to 214 as he experiments with ways to maximize his enormous potential -- yes, some untapped potential he believes still exists even though he is arguably already the best receiver in the NFL. His physical experiments include workouts that feature him wearing a 50-pound weighted vest as he jogs, sprints and runs pass routes.
The purpose of it all? Excellence on the field, where Bryant believes the Cowboys can be Super Bowl contenders. Security off the field, where Dez tells me he doesn't want to screw up because he doesn't wish to have his three little children someday ask him, "Daddy, why were you such a knucklehead?'' Oh, and fun. It's still fun for "hyperactive adult'' Dez Bryant to do these things.
I have reported that the two sides -- Dez and agent Tom Condon over here, and Jerry and Jerry Jones over there -- moved to such a negotiating comfort level last week that there was discussion inside Valley Ranch about the possibility of announcing a done deal following the Jones' return from vacation after a long July 4 weekend.
Does "comfort'' mean "close''? Not necessarily. Not yet.
The two sides' pursuit of a “Cowboys For Life’’ contract -- maybe worth $100 million spread over seven years — is a shared pursuit. Owner Jerry Jones wants to make a “positive mark’’ on what figures to be one of the most high-impact contracts he’ll pay as Dallas Cowboys owner. Meanwhile, team management wishes to avoid any negativity (resulting from a holdout or even from long-term disgruntlement should Bryant simply play under the $12.832 million franchise tag) that could detract from this team’s cause — which includes Bryant serving as a leader on a contending team.
So Bryant is a motivated negotiator on his side. And Jerry is a motivated negotiator on his, as they wish to make this “positive mark’’ together. That is reason for optimism ... reason for the Jones family to take some days off from this, feeling like between now and the July 15 deadline to craft a new deal allows for ample time.
I have reported that all involved need clarity about how the guaranteed portion of the deal will be paid (when, as well as which parts are “virtual guarantees’’). I have reported that suggestions of negativity and conflict are about as real as the Dez Walmart Unicorn Video. I believe when Dez tweets lyrics from the Jay-Z song, "What We Talkin' About,'' he's alluding to the disrespect of being ranked 15th in the NFL Network's Top 100 Players.
What we talking bout fiction or we talking bout fact? You talking bout fiction? Hold up, pardon my back -Hov Goodnight people— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) July 8, 2015
I don't know that. I just believe the jab wasn't directed at anybody else because I believe there is positivity about substantial progress before the July 15 deadline to create a tag-avoiding new deal. The positivity is obvious in recent days, as the Dallas Cowboys have seen Dez show up to minicamp, meet with NBC to film promos for the NFL opener, offer to help the Mavs recruit in free agency, and do backflips in left field at Dirk's charity baseball game. Really, the only negatively came a couple of weeks ago when Dez told me his thoughts on boycotting games.
But that positivity doesn't make these negotiations easy. The countdown is on, as there is now a week remaining to finalize an agreement. . A long-term deal will normally include a rather large portion of the first three years as guaranteed salary; money the player will get no matter what (to a degree). If a player signs a tender, that salary is guaranteed for the year, but nothing beyond that is known. A career-ending injury would mean no additional income for said player. (Watch out for aerial flips and fireworks!)
Jerry Jones is on-record as to what he wants.
So the club has made it clear they want Dez, Dez has made it clear he wants to be a Cowboy for life… what gives?
In addition to the devil being in the details, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones and A.J. Green are part of what gives. All four players entered the league within a year of each other. Bryant and Thomas are currently franchise tagged while Jones and Green are eligible for extensions heading into the final season of their respective rookie deals. Then you've got the monster Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald contracts, viewed by the Cowboys as being too rich.
I find it "easy'' to slot Bryant in and around the $14-million-a-year range. But that's not the challenge. What about those other guys and the dominoes that might need to fall so their deals can frame one another? And what about the aforementioned guarantees and virtual guarantees? What about protections and escapes from what might be a seven-year-long commitment?
This might be one of the biggest deals of Jerry Jones' life. He wants to get it right, and now he's back from vacation and ready to roll up his (and Stephen's) sleeves. This is the biggest deal of Dez Bryant's life. He wants to get it right, so he's controlling what he can, owning the gym, experimenting with his weight and overloading himself with a heavy vest.
The two sides are "not close enough yet'' with negotiating directions that at the same time have them feeling "comfortable.'' Those two concepts don't become mutually exclusive until July 15. ... at which Jerry and Dez both hope to unburden themselves.