Cowboys should pay up for Bryant

OXNARD, Calif. -- Dez Bryant views himself as one of the game's top five receivers -- a player worth at least $12 million a season.

Can you really blame him after catching 93 passes for 1,223 yards and 13 touchdowns last season?

The Cowboys view him differently.

And that's why he shouldn't expect to reach a long-term agreement with the Cowboys anytime soon. It's going to take a while for the sides to work through their issues. The Cowboys see Bryant as a player on the cusp of greatness who should be paid in the $8 million-$10 million range.

Oh, and whatever signing bonus the sides ultimately agree on, the Cowboys want a portion of it deferred or tied to roster bonuses to protect the team in case Bryant has any off-field issues. The Cowboys would also be OK with a deal that provides higher base salaries and a lower signing bonus.

Bottom line: The Cowboys don't want their salary cap obliterated if Bryant has an off-field issue that keeps him from playing.

Bryant, disappointed with the slow progress in negotiations, briefly contemplated staying in Dallas for the start of training camp, several sources said.

Then he reconsidered.

"Truthfully, to be honest, I put my teammates first," Bryant said after practice Thursday. "That's the God-honest truth. Coach [Scott] Linehan here is new. It's a new offense. I need to be there, and a lot of these guys look up to me.

"I couldn't be selfish. I can't be selfish. I won't be selfish. Like I said, that stuff, eventually, I promise it will take care of itself, regardless of what the situation is."

The Cowboys are fooling themselves if they don't think Bryant is among the game's best receivers. They should pay the man. A five-year deal worth about $63 million sounds about right.

Understand this: The market never, ever goes down. The Cowboys can either use Bryant to set the market or they can let other teams establish the market after deals with Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Atlanta's Julio Jones, Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Chicago's Alshon Jeffery get done.

Bryant has evolved into a legitimate No. 1 receiver, the kind of player defensive coordinators spend all week figuring out how to defend. He's a guy who is capable of dominating a game and who gets considerable double coverage, creating opportunities for others.

He's a game-breaker, a dude who's a threat to turn every hitch, crossing route and 15-yard deep in route into a touchdown with his physical running style.

Bryant has 25 touchdowns the past two seasons and 34 over the past three. There are zero questions about his work ethic or passion for the game, and he yearns to be one of the team's leaders.

Now, there are legitimate questions about whether he can sustain his production as the physical gifts that allow him to make acrobatic catches seem routine start to fade. He needs to be a better route-runner, and he can be more effective running after the catch.

He also had some high-profile off-field issues that make the club a tad apprehensive of signing him to a lengthy deal, though none recently.

The Cowboys have mentioned Washington receiver DeSean Jackson's three-year, $24 million contract as a rough guide for the type of structure they'd ultimately like Bryant to sign. Jackson received a $5 million bonus, but he also gets a $3 million roster bonus when he makes the final 53-man roster this season, and he received a $500,000 workout bonus.

His contract has a similar structure in 2015 and 2016, although that year is voidable.

Talk to enough folks and it kind of sounds like the Cowboys have decided Bryant's worth and don't want to venture too far from that number.

Bryant isn't signing for that. Not when Seattle's Percy Harvin signed a six-year, $64.2 million extension with Seattle after Minnesota traded him, and Mike Wallace signed a five-year, $60-million free-agent deal with Miami.

Calvin Johnson's deal averages $16.2 million, and Larry Fitzgerald's deal averages $16.1 million. Wallace is next at $12 million.

Bryant is better than Wallace, but he has no leverage, so he must be patient. After all, the Cowboys could let Bryant's contract expire and use the franchise tag on him for consecutive years. While the money is good -- $12.3 million -- it provides no long-term security.

"We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens," Bryant said. "This is a business. That's the way I've got to look at it. I know that's the way they look at it. We'll go from there."

It's why Bryant ultimately chose to report on time. He must prove to the Cowboys every day that he's worth the cash he covets.