Dez Bryant’s NFL comeback was driven by, of all people, his daughter.
Bryant was out of the league after being released by the Cowboys and, for a while, his NFL prospects looked bleak. He was without a team through most of 2018 but then tore his Achilles tendon. He had to miss 2019’s season as a result and it took him a few weeks into the 2020 season to sign onto the Ravens’ practice squad.
But as Bryant pondered his future, his daughter, Isabella Rose, kept asking if her dad was going to play football again. And Tuesday night, he’ll get to play football against his former team.
“I was like, ‘You know what, baby? I’m going to give it a go,’” Bryant recalled. “I started training. I started working out every day. I got myself to a point to where I felt like I could get back out there.”
It took two tryouts, but he was able to latch onto the Ravens’ practice squad earlier this season and made a few appearances in games this season. Just last week, he signed onto the 53-man roster as a full-time addition.
In three games so far this year, he’s made a modest impact: Seven targets and four receptions for 28 yards. He hasn’t scored a touchdown yet, but Bryant simply getting back onto the field is what he, and his daughter, wanted most anyway.
“I feel good physically,” Bryant said. “I think the coaches, they’re doing what they feel is best for me, because sometimes I think I can bite off more than I can chew. But whatever they have for me, I’m going to be prepared for it. I’m excited. I’m going to let the coaches do what they feel is best, and I’m just going to follow their lead.”
Bryant’s status as one of the most popular practice squad players in NFL history came with a bit of notoriety.
He played eight seasons for the Cowboys, where he played in 113 games and totaled 531 receptions for 7,459 yards and 73 touchdowns. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time First-Team All-Pro.
“Obviously, growing up, watching a lot of NFC East football, I watched a lot of Dez Bryant — him throwing up the ‘X’ and all that stuff,” said quarterback Trace McSorley, who grew up in Ashburn, Virginia. “It was just really cool to kind of see him live, in person, actually in a practice setting, as opposed to just on TV, as I did when I was growing up.”
It won’t take a rocket scientist, though, to understand that Bryant’s first few weeks are about to pale in comparison to what he’ll go through on Tuesday.
Sure, he’s been a capable depth receiver for a Ravens team that needs offensive weapons. He’s, by all accounts, been a great teammate and worker since he’s arrived in Baltimore.
But against the Cowboys on Tuesday, everyone knows it’s not just a normal game.
“It’s cool, it’s kind of cool,” Bryant said. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it. A lot of those guys on the team I know; I’m real good friends with. (They’re) hell of (good) football players. Whenever we line up across from one another, I think it’s going to be fun. Like I said, it’s going to be an exciting moment.”
Everyone has downplayed the matchup, including Bryant himself. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently came out and praised Bryant and offered him the best.
Instead, it’s been something Bryant has to internalize.
“It’s hard to really tell,” McSorley said. “I’m sure there probably is some stuff, maybe, inside for him; I’m not going to speak for him, though. The good thing about him is that he always holds himself to the standard — it doesn’t matter (who) the opponent is. And his competitiveness, his attitude, it doesn’t seem to change no matter who’s lining up across from him.”
Bryant taking the field on Tuesday night against the Cowboys will be weird for a lot of Cowboys fans, Ravens fans and quite literally anyone who watched NFL football before 2015.
There are few, if any, hard feelings left for Bryant from the way things ended in Dallas — with a release in 2018 that kept him out of the league for two-and-a-half seasons. He’s three years removed from playing with a blue star on his helmet. He’s four years removed from his last Pro Bowl. He’s six years removed from his only All-Pro appearance. But the feelings are still there.
In a Dallas Cowboys game, Bryant, the Baltimore Raven, will take center stage once again.
“For the most part, it’s water under the bridge,” Bryant said. “That’s two years that I had time to get myself together. You have to move forward with life, because life (isn’t) going to wait on you. Time waits on no one. So, I had to get myself together (and) move forward. I’m back in my hometown colors — the purple — and I’m excited about that. I’m here. I’m a Raven.”