Dez Bryant has the long-term contract he said he wouldn’t play without, and the Dallas Cowboys can quit worrying about whether he really would skip games.
The All-Pro receiver signed a five-year, $70 million deal Wednesday, after months of posturing from both sides and less than an hour before a deadline that would have required him to play under a one-year agreement.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that we wanted a long-term deal with Dez," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We just had to get the pot right."
To do that, Jones flew to New York on Tuesday with son and executive vice president Stephen Jones to meet with agent Tom Condon and representatives of Jay Z’s Roc Nation talent agency. The elder Jones said they were up until 3 a.m. Wednesday discussing terms, and he went to bed confident a deal was all but done.
A person close to the negotiations provided contract terms to The Associated Press because they weren’t announced. The deal, which includes $45 million in guaranteed money, is similar to one Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas signed about the same time as Bryant.
At an average of $14 million annually, Bryant and Thomas are now the second-highest paid receivers behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson ($16 million).
The 26-year-old Bryant, who led the NFL with 16 touchdowns receiving last season, had threatened to skip training camp and regular-season games without a contract to replace the $12.8 million offer for one year he had under the franchise tag.
Once the sides got close enough, Bryant rode to the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters. He was pictured there signing the contract with his son in his arms.
"I smiled the whole way over here. I couldn’t even say nothing but just smile and laugh, because I couldn’t believe it," Bryant said in a story on the team’s website. "All I could just think about is that it’s a dream — a dream come true. I think the only thing that’s missing is a Super Bowl."
Now the Cowboys can focus on defending their NFC East title and trying to make a deeper playoff run after one that essentially ended with Bryant’s much-debated catch that wasn’t in a divisional-round loss to Green Bay.
The deal also ended the contract-related drama that filled the offseason for the Cowboys.
First, they decided not to match Philadelphia’s offer on running back DeMarco Murray in free agency, and let the NFL rushing leader go to a division rival. Then the focus turned to Bryant, who has the most touchdowns receiving in the league since 2010, when Dallas drafted him late in the first round after his stock fell over concerns about off-the-field issues.
The Cowboys believed they could let Murray walk because they’ve assembled one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, bolstered by three first-round picks in the past five drafts. The last of those, Zack Martin, was the first rookie All-Pro for Dallas since Calvin Hill in 1969.
But the prospect of playing without Bryant was more daunting. He has more catches (381), yards (5,424) and touchdowns (56) through five years than any receiver in franchise history — a list that includes Hall of Famers Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes.
"We know what he means to the team in many different ways and he’s evolved to his credit, he’s evolved into a player where he’s indispensable to us," Jerry Jones said. "This is a real cornerstone as we look at the pieces that we’re putting together."
In the months before the deal was reached, Bryant would occasionally use Twitter to express frustration over not having what he thought was a suitable offer. He also was miffed by suggestions that the Cowboys didn’t want to commit because of concern over issues from his first two years in the league, including an arrest in a domestic case involving his mother.
The most pointed message came Monday, when Bryant tweeted he would "not be there if no deal." It was a clear a reference to training camp coming up in two weeks, if not another threat to sit out games, which would have cost him about $750,000 for each game he missed under the franchise tag.
"I’m a very passionate person," Bryant told the team’s website. "I am that guy that, I have to stand by my word, because that’s how I want to raise my babies. It was all me. It was honest."
Bryant never signed the franchise tender, so Dallas couldn’t fine Bryant for missing offseason workouts and camp practices. Bryant didn’t practice all spring, but did show up from time to time. That included the final mandatory minicamp workout, when he had a 15-minute conversation with Jones.
"I’m proud for him and you have to be proud for him individually when you consider the magnitude of this contract," Jerry Jones said. "It’s a life-changer for him, but he’s worked to get it."