<
>

Mature approach suits Dez Bryant

OXNARD, Calif. -- We're about to find out just how much Dez Bryant has matured now that Tyron Smith has signed a contract that essentially makes him a member of the Dallas Cowboys for life.

Will Bryant handle the disappointment of not having a deal done and continue to practice with passion, or will he sulk?

Based on the past two days, the wide receiver is handling any disappointment well. He seems determined to put up such big numbers the Cowboys won't have any choice but to sign him to the lucrative long-term deal he craves.

Good for him.

That's what professionals do. They don't let the business side of the NFL affect their on-field performance.

It's the reason Bryant ultimately came to training camp after contemplating ever so briefly whether he would miss its start because of the slow nature of negotiations.

It's OK for Bryant to be frustrated he hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys, but don't misconstrue his emotions. Any disappointment Bryant feels has nothing to do with Smith -- nor should it.

He tweeted congratulations to Smith after news of the contract broke. The left tackle earned his new money, and players are always happy to see their teammates get paid.

Since then, Bryant has declined to speak to the media, which is certainly his right. Bryant simply wants the same commitment from the Cowboys they've shown to others.

When do the Cowboys take care of him? Why do they keep implying he's not one of the top five receivers in the game? Why does seemingly every contract conversation begin with DeSean Jackson and the three-year, $24 million deal he signed with the Washington Redskins?

The Cowboys must tread carefully, or they could lose Bryant. Scoff if you choose, but the danger is real.

Bryant grew up in Lufkin, Texas, a couple of hours east of Dallas, with less than nothing. All he really had was the self-respect that came from his exploits on the football field.

So if Bryant believes he's been disrespected as a player -- whether it's real or perceived -- he'll also view that as being disrespected as a man.

The Cowboys must be careful they don't accidentally disrespect Bryant the player or the man during negotiations. Doing so could affect much of the trust the team and the 25-year-old have established over the past four years.

Bryant views himself as a top-five receiver, a player worthy of a contract worth in the range of at least $12 million per season. The Cowboys view him as a player more in the 6-10 range, and worthy of a deal in the $8 million-10 million neighborhood.

Just so you know, Bryant, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Green Bay's Jordy Nelson are the only other receivers the past three seasons to compile more than 3,000 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns.

Obviously, there's room for compromise in every negotiation, but Bryant isn't going to accept a deal that averages $10 million per season for whatever reason.

Heck, Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe's deal averages $11.1 million. Do you think the Cowboys would trade Bryant for Bowe straight up? Of course not.

The Cowboys want Bryant to run better routes, be a more efficient runner after the catch and rely less on acrobatics. They want to be sure Bryant's back can, as he ages, withstand the punishment this game doles out.

And they also want to know the volatility we saw on the sideline in the fourth quarter against Detroit last season is an aberration, and that the high-profile off-the-field issues that cluttered Bryant's first couple of seasons are over.

Executive vice president Stephen Jones says he wants Bryant to be a Cowboys lifer. Team owner/general manager Jerry Jones agrees.

"I've never felt higher about Dez," Jerry Jones said, "than I do right now. Never."

But the Cowboys want the deal done at their price. Imagine that.

Sean Lee accepted a team-friendly deal, as did Smith. And if Bryant were to accept a team-friendly deal, he could have one before the weekend is over.

For now, he's not willing to do it. There's no rush for either side to compromise. If no agreement is reached, the Cowboys will put the $12.3 million franchise tag on Bryant.

There's been no outward indication Bryant has been affected by Smith's contract. He's handling his business like a man who understands he's going to get paid what he's worth.

Now or later. It's a mature approach.