Cowboys’ Bryant had an ‘X’ strategy — not an exit strategy

It’s known as the trademark symbol made with his wrists crossed after scoring a touchdown, but there has been no more important “X” ever associated with Dez Bryant than the one next to where he signed his name Wednesday.

The contract impasse between Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys ended with a five-year, $70 million deal that includes $45 million guaranteed. The pact was officially signed less than an hour before an NFL deadline for franchise-tag players that would have prevented the Cowboys and Bryant from negotiating a long-term agreement until the 2016 offseason.

The cut-off date spurred action across the league. Three others who were tagged — Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston, Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski — secured contracts that made them among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, players at their positions.

Nobody, though, had drawn more attention in the dash for cash than Bryant.

Such is life as a member of an NFL club that attracts more media scrutiny than any other. But Bryant was far more outspoken about his situation than the other franchise-tag designees — and it worked.

Rather than let his agent do the talking, Bryant headed to minicamp last month for a face-to-face meeting with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones about negotiations. When that didn’t get the ball rolling as much as he would have liked, Bryant sent out a tweet earlier this week that read:

Under a $12.8 million franchise tender for the 2015 season, Bryant would have forfeited $752,941 for each week he missed. Whether he actually would have missed training camp and regular-season games is debatable.

Although almost every player given the franchise tag is disgruntled because it lacks long-term financial security, they always seem to report before missing a paycheck. The last franchise player to actually have missed a contest while holding out was then-Seattle left tackle Walter Jones in 2002.

There’s no guarantee Bryant would have ended that 13-year streak. But when emotion becomes interwoven with business, unexpected — and unpleasant — things can happen.

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Jones knows all about that from when he parted ways with head coach Jimmy Johnson following a barroom argument in the early 1990s.

This, too, had become personal with Bryant and Jones. The passion Bryant shows on the field is the same he holds for the Cowboys organization. He takes great pride in having taken the mantle passed by Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin to cement himself as the next great Dallas wide receiver to wear jersey No. 88.

A strong argument can be made that Bryant enters this season as the NFL’s best wideout. If he weren’t paid accordingly, especially after failed efforts previously to extend his rookie contract, Bryant’s frustration could have boiled over in a number of different ways.

The Cowboys averted such a potential mess and all the collateral damage that would have come with it. Teammates now won’t have to deal with the distraction of Bryant being gone from camp and the media circus that would come with his absence. Head coach Jason Garrett, who already has enough to worry about on offense with star running back DeMarco Murray having left to Philadelphia via free agency, doesn’t have to start formulating game plans without quarterback Tony Romo’s top target in the fold.

With the Greg Hardy suspension appeal finally decided (and reduced), Dallas can enter the preseason with a good degree of normalcy — at least by Cowboys standards.

There was nothing normal about the road Bryant took to reach this point. His mistakes on and off the field are well chronicled. Even at age 26, Bryant’s maturity remains in question. The same goes for his financial acumen. That’s one of the reasons Dallas was reportedly reluctant initially to give Bryant large sums of guaranteed money in a new deal.

But consider this: Bryant really shouldn’t even be in the NFL with the type of hardscrabble upbringing he experienced — one that has kept so many others with talent raised in similar circumstances from succeeding. Bryant was once surrounded by poverty coming from a single-parent East Texas home. His mother was 14 years old when he was born and has a drug-related arrest history.

The contract signed Wednesday not only allows Bryant to ensure he never has to struggle financially again but also will help disadvantaged loved ones escape a similar fate. Thus, it was fitting to see the Cowboys’ website post a photo of Bryant’s young son in his lap while the contract was being signed.

X marked the spot where Bryant got what he deserved.

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