Cowboys must help Bryant, not dump him

July, 17, 2012
7/17/12
11:00
AM ET

I don't know if Dez Bryant will ever completely get his act together, and neither do you. The people who are calling for the Dallas Cowboys to release Bryant in the wake of his Monday arrest on a domestic violence charge, those who are shouting about how he'll never get it and isn't worth the trouble, must take a step back for a moment and remember what it is that we actually do know.

We know that Bryant is only 23 years old and that labeling someone irretrievable when they're still that young is not just foolish but irresponsible. We know he hasn't had much reliable guidance in his life. And if you believe Deion Sanders, he hasn't always responded well when guidance has been offered. We know that he's made bad choices and that he has too often acted in ways that show he doesn't understand his responsibilities as a young adult, let alone a star athlete in the public eye.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/James D SmithIs it too soon for the Cowboys to give up on young reciever Dez Bryant?
We know he has huge talent, which is why someone who makes the bad choices Bryant has made gets the brilliant chance he's been given. We know he's important to the Cowboys as a wide receiver, this year and beyond, and that in order to have the success they believe he can have, he must stop being the off-field headache he's been since they drafted him. But we don't know for sure, four months short of his 24th birthday, that he is incapable of putting his troubles behind him. And because we -- and the Cowboys -- don't know that, the Cowboys absolutely must find a way to help him.

Help him. Not cut him. Not pile on the way a bloodthirsty NFL-fan public might want them to. The Cowboys have too much invested in Bryant and have too much at stake to give up on a player this young and this good. Their priority needs to be finding ways to help Bryant get his off-field life to a more manageable place. Because if that doesn't happen, the consequences for the young man could be much worse than just being a first-round bust.

It may be that, in the new Cowboys culture with Jason Garrett calling more shots, the team would never draft Bryant if given the choice to do so now. But that's irrelevant. He's on the team, and they need to find a way to make it work. When he's at the team facility and on the practice field, he doesn't carry himself like a punk or a prima donna. By all accounts, he works hard, is respectful of coaches and fits in well with his teammates. When Bryant goes to work, things are fine. He's a young player, learning the league and getting better all the time.

The problems happen when Bryant is away from the team, when he's home, unsupervised, in the troubled world from which he came. This is what makes the team hold its breath -- worrying about what will happen to Bryant when they can't see him. It had been an encouragingly quiet offseason for Bryant until Monday, and the team had reason to believe, with two weeks left until training camp, that he had a chance to get through it without incident. He did not, and now they must once again wonder if this is a player whom they can count on in the long run. Even if the team decides that discipline isn't the way to go, there remains the possibility that Roger Goodell and his personal conduct policy will decide otherwise. Right now, the Cowboys don't know whether they can be sure Bryant will be eligible to play all 16 games for them this year.

Bryant is too important to the Cowboys to be such a question mark, and the team's goal has to be finding some way to ensure that he's not. It won't be easy. Bryant's 23-plus years are loaded with potentially intractable obstacles that have led many people to wonder whether he can ever get it together. But no matter what anybody's saying today, we don't actually know that he can't.

Bryant had never been arrested prior to Monday. For all of his off-field issues with money, his run-ins with police and mall security, nothing he'd ever done prior to Monday had resulted in an actual arrest. That makes what happened Monday worse, by literal definition, than anything he's done to that point. And that could mean he's a young man headed in the wrong direction instead of the right one. There are quite a few people out there who continually await Bryant's next misstep, because we live in an I-told-you-so world. People are obsessed with being proven right, and those who made up their minds about Bryant long ago believe that Monday proved them right.

But he's 23 years old, and the world shouldn't be giving up on troubled 23-year-olds, no matter who they are. It so happens that this particular 23-year-old is a talented, wealthy, young star athlete, and for that reason he may get more chances to turn his life around than another 23-year-old would. That may not be fair, but if those extra chances bring the right result, it's going to be worth it. No matter how many chances or how frustrating the process is of continuing to offer them. The goal here shouldn't be to find, label and cast aside the 23-year-olds who are making bad decisions. The goal should be finding ways to help them make better ones.

I don't know if Dez Bryant can be saved from his lifelong cycle of poor choices, but neither do the Cowboys. And until they know for sure, the only choice they have -- for football reasons, moral reasons and common decency reasons -- is to keep trying.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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