Why the Patriots should make a run at Dez Bryant
FOXBORO -- Dez Bryant may want to make the Cowboys pay. He may want to end up with a team like the Giants or the Redskins, see his former team twice a year, and make sure Dallas is reminded of the fact that he still has plenty left in the tank.
But what if he were to end up somewhere else? What if he were to end up in a place that could boost his long-term value? A place that, even if it didn't pay him top dollar, would be well worth his investment of a year's time?
Let's take a quick look at why the Patriots should make a push for Bryant, acknowledging the player's flaws in the process . . .
RARE SKILL SET
Bryant is not a crafty route-runner whose savvy along the boundary helps him create separation for easy yards. However, his size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) and ability to adjust to the ball in the air make him a player who can make plays even when there's a defensive back in close proximity. His hands? Suspect. They were last year, at least. He had the third-highest drop rate among receivers with at least 70 targets last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and he led the league with 12 drops total. Still, Bryant is just two seasons removed from having the ninth-lowest drop rate in the league. In 2016, quarterbacks had a 106.8 rating when targeting Bryant, which was 15th among receivers and better than the rating number posted by quarterbacks when throwing to Odell Beckham, Julian Edelman and DeAndre Hopkins. Last year, Bryant's rating when targeted fell to 74.8. That's certainly not trending in the right direction, but in a more efficient offense, with a variety of talented weapons in the passing game around him, perhaps Bryant could get back to his 2016 form. Even in a down season, Bryant still proved a physical runner who can make defenders miss. He forced 14 missed tackles last season, per PFF, which was fifth-best in the league among players at his position.
FIT IN NEW ENGLAND
Picture this: Tom Brady barks out signals from the shotgun. Rob Gronkowski is on the line of scrimmage as an in-line tight end. Julian Edelman is in motion. Chris Hogan is already wide on Gronkowski's side of the formation. Bryant is on the opposite side of the field on an island. If Bryant is doubled, that would make life difficult for any defense that wants an extra set of eyes on Gronkowski or Edelman. If he isn't, then Bryant has an opportunity to feast in one-on-one coverage. The Patriots certainly could make room for Bryant if the price was right. They're loaded with low-cost veteran receivers like Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson -- all of whom are guaranteed very little if anything in terms of salary. Bryant's addition would potentially rob Malcolm Mitchell of the opportunity for reps on the outside, but Mitchell is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss all of last season.
A LITTLE MOTIVATION
Bryant hasn't exactly been the same player since signing a five-year deal worth $70 million in 2015. Part of that may be due to injury (he played nine games that season and 13 in 2016). Part of that may be due to age. But what would he look like as a player with everything to gain? What would he look like on a one-year deal in New England? It would make sense for all parties involved if Bryant is willing to take less than top dollar in order to team up with Brady and set himself up for one final big payday in 2019 at 30 years old. Granted, that's a big "if." The Patriots have about $14 million in cap space, and they'll need approximately $4.2 million in cap space to sign this year's draft picks, according to Over The Cap. (That’s if they keep all of their draft picks currently in hand . . . which they probably won't.) That's more than enough space to make a relatively competitive one-year offer for Bryant and still have some space left over to sign undrafted free agents and make other additions during the season. In the end, a marriage between Bryant and the Patriots will depend on two things: 1) Bill Belichick's willingness to bring aboard a player with a rare (though seemingly declining) skill set and an outspoken approach; 2) Bryant's willingness to take less than what he'll be offered elsewhere in order to play with one of the best teams in the league and the reigning MVP.