One of the best wide receivers in the NFL only a few years ago, Dez Bryant had been a free agent for the entirety of the season until Nov. 7 when he agreed to a single-year contract with the New Orleans Saints. The three-time Pro Bowl star was released by the Dallas Cowboys last year, the team he had been playing for since 2010.
The move was understandable, as Bryant is now 30 years old and his prime seems to be behind him. The Cowboys also cited off the field issues as a reason for releasing him. Still, many suspected that Bryant remains an excellent receiver.
Soon after he was released, the Baltimore Ravens offered Bryant a multi-year contract worth seven million dollars per year. He turned the deal down, stating that he was looking for a one-year contract only. It’s been speculated that Dez has actually been chasing a Super Bowl ring. If this is true, then it makes sense that he would turn down the deal, as the Ravens aren’t looking like Super Bowl contenders this year.
Instead of taking the money, Bryant waited over six months for another contract. And he finally got one. The Saints are certainly Super Bowl contenders this year. Their franchise quarterback, Drew Brees, is playing as consistently as ever, and the team made other acquisitions this year that have put them in a win-now position.
Bryant was extremely excited to join the team, and the Saints were excited to have him. After his first practice, it seemed like he had a chance at getting serious playing time in their next game. However, anyone who watched the game on Sunday could have clearly seen that Dez Bryant was not playing.
The reason for this is that in his second practice as a Saint, Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and is now out for the rest of the season. After spending half a year wondering if he would find a team to play with, Bryant finally found one only to have his hopes crushed. No one is happy when a player gets hurt, but it feels significantly worse when it’s a player as passionate as Dez Bryant.
It’s clear that his teammates are feeling bad for him. During Sunday’s game, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas all paid tribute to Bryant by making an X with their arms after their touchdowns, a celebration that Bryant himself did often.
While the story is sad to hear, the question remains: What’s next? Both the Saints and Bryant need to decide how they will react to this.
The Saints have already spent their resources creating the best team possible to win a Super Bowl this season. With or without Dez Bryant, the Saints still have their eyes on that goal. Despite this, they are still lacking in the wide receiver position. While Michael Thomas has been pulling his weight, Cameron Meredith, who was expected to play well for the team, has not. Ted Ginn Jr. is out with an injury as well.
Before agreeing to a deal with Bryant, the Saints had also brought in Brandon Marshall, a veteran wide receiver who was cut from the Seahawks in late October, to see if they wanted to sign him instead. On Monday, only a few days after Bryant got injured, the Saints decided to sign him.
This was certainly an appropriate reaction as Marshall, while older than Bryant, has at least played in the NFL this season. This signing fills the gap they had in their roster and signing him to a one-year deal makes the move pretty low-risk.
For Bryant, the next step is not quite as clear. The Saints have said that they are open to bringing him back next season. Still, he will be a free agent and won’t have to go back if he doesn’t want to. There are two factors Dez needs to consider before making this decision: his health and his career goals.
Many have been citing a recent paper in a journal called Foot and Ankle International, which has shown that around 70 percent of NFL players who suffer from Achilles injuries are eventually able to return to the field. However, Dez Bryant is 30 years old and the 30 percent of players who cannot recover from these injuries are not negligible. If Dez cannot recover well, it seems that retirement should be at the forefront of his mind. He has had an incredible career and his prime seems to be behind him, so it’s hard to imagine the idea hasn’t already crossed his mind.
If he is able to recover, Bryant must ask himself what he is looking to do with the last several years of his career. If he is indeed ring chasing as many have speculated, a return to the Saints may not be a bad idea. A lot can happen over the course of a season and an offseason, so it’s hard to say whether the Saints will return as legitimate contenders or not.
If Bryant wants to play football next season, there will be teams who will pay him, but finding a spot on an elite team might be hard. After all, at that point, he will have not played in an NFL game in over a year and a half. He will not have as much leverage in negotiations as he may have had in the past, and there are so many elements involved that he will have to consider. Hopefully his rehab goes well so he will be able to take advantage of whatever opportunity he chooses.