Dez Bryant has averaged a dismal 7.9 targets, 3.9 receptions, and 53.6 receiving yards over his last 36 NFL games and has accumulated negative fantasy points over expectation during that time. Recent Bryant headlines have not been positive, creating the possibility that his dynasty value is about to collapse.
Act Wearing Thin?
Bryant’s recent struggles are the opposite of how his career began.
Through his first 75 games, Bryant averaged 72 yards and 3.3 fantasy points over expectation, numbers that reflect is ridiculous red zone ability. But the downturn in production has been severe enough to call his behavior into question. Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones mentioned that his behavior on the sideline “can be a distraction.” Jones went on to question the chemistry between Bryant and quarterback Dak Prescott.
Owner Jerry Jones, speaking at the Senior Bowl, said that the team had no plans to move him, but can we take that as gospel? Could he be released or traded after June 1st? Will Bryant’s athleticism fade as he approaches his age-30 season?
STATISTICAL DOWNWARD SPIRAL
Bryant generated 1,200 or more receiving yards from 2012 to 2014 and scored 41 total touchdowns. He signed a signed a five-year, $70 million contract, including a $20 million signing bonus, $45 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $14 million. But Bryant has yet to hit 1,000 receiving yards since signing this contract, and his number of touchdowns decreased.
Bryant was a major disappointment, especially when you take into account the draft capital it took to land him last summer. His performance decline when catching passes from Dak Prescott is especially stark.
Beginning with his second season in 2011, Bryant has been a solid WR1 with other quarterbacks but a low-end WR2 with Prescott. Whether this is specifically the result of fit with Prescott or simply the result of an overall downturn in play, the reality and fantasy ramifications are significant.
The Cowboys front office wisely structured his contract in a manner which would give them an out after three seasons, and Bryant may be asked to take a pay cut. His productivity has faded and the chart above depicts that perfectly, but could Bryant’s fading athleticism be contributing to his decline in production.
Injuries over the last two seasons that include a pedal foot and knee patella fracture have affected his athleticism and play strength. Mike Braude writes an article every season that revolves around the peak age of an NFL WR. He looks at players solidly in the WR1 tier and defines a peak season as one with at least 80 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. The prime of a WR’s career is from 25 to 29. 59.4 percent of peak seasons occur in this window with a steady decline beginning at age 30.
Bryant will turn 30 on November 4th, and while elite WRs tend to maintain performance in their 30s, this is no consolation for a player who is already not performing at an elite level. More creative playcalling could possibly help, although it’s not clear if or how much.
Did you know that Bryant was the most expensive player on the Cowboys roster this season according to Over The Cap? He had a $13 million base salary and $17 million cap hit. Bryant is due $12.5 million in base salary in 2018 and his cap hit is set for $16.5 million. He has been very vocal about not taking a pay cut. If the Cowboys severed ties with Bryant the team would save $8.5 million, but he would still count as $8 million in dead money against the cap. The more likely scenario is for Bryant to be released or traded after June 1st. He would count $4 million against the 2018 cap and $4 million against the 2019 cap.
Those who have Bryant on dynasty teams would be wise to trade him. What could you get for him in a trade? That is a question I would let other owners in your league answer. If you are forced to hold Bryant then another alternative is to address the WR1 position through trades or in the rookie draft and use him as a WR2.
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