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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Offseason entirely up to Dez Bryant

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- A couple of days ago, Jason Garrett talked about four young players whom he expects to be cornerstones of the franchise.

Sean Lee. DeMarco Murray. Tyron Smith.

And Dez Bryant.

Say what?

Garrett can't be serious when it comes to talking about Bryant and cornerstone in the same sentence.

Not now. Hopefully, one day.

Lee, Murray and Smith all make sense. None has any history of off-the-field issues.

Bryant has more than enough baggage for all of them.

Jerry Jones and Dez Bryant
Jerry Jones is doing what he can to help Dez Bryant manage his finances, but he won't be able to keep an eye on his receiver 24/7 during the offseason. It's up to Bryant to stay out of trouble.

Understand, this has nothing to do with talent. We've seen him for two seasons now, and only a fool would say he has anything less than prodigious talent.

We watched him catch 63 passes for 928 yards and nine touchdowns, though he failed to have a 100-yard game, something Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson each accomplished this season.

Some players -- Terrell Owens comes to mind -- have so much talent and production that you put up with their issues.

That's why T.O. lasted three seasons and scored 38 touchdowns in Dallas before Jerry decided he was no longer worth the trouble. Pacman Jones lasted only one season before his issues outweighed his worth.

Bryant is a good player whose issues make him unreliable.

A franchise that hasn't had consecutive 10-win seasons since 1995 and 1996 and is 120-120 since 1997 with one playoff win can't build around players it can't trust.

Right now, Bryant hasn't earned anyone's trust.

One of the reasons the Cowboys' dynasty of the '90s crumbled is because off-the-field issues and unreliable star players dragged the franchise down.

Since Bryant arrived, it has been one issue after another -- whether we're talking about the Saggy Pants Scandal at NorthPark Center mall or the never-ending string of lawsuits from folks who say he owes them money or backed out of contracts.

And it's safe to say that local authorities in Cedar Hill and DeSoto are familiar with Bryant and his behavior -- and not his charitable contributions.

The latest incident occurred last week, when a Endurance Capital Fund, a New York-based company that helps athletes and entertainers purchase luxury items such as cars and vacation homes, claimed Bryant has not repaid the full amount he borrowed. Jerry Jones has proclaimed the debt paid.

A court will probably determine whether it is or not, since the bank specializes in payday loans, so to speak, for rich folks. Bryant has repaid the loan, but not the credit card-like interest.

Jones has intimate knowledge of Bryant's personal finances because the owner has taken over Bryant's finances. Actually, he's turned the bills over to a financial company that pays Bryant's monthly expenses, so Jones knows exactly what Bryant has and has not paid.

Jones has done this for a handful of players during his tenure as owner. It's his way of helping them, because a player's off-the-field issues can certainly affect their on-field production.

Bryant's an immature guy who needs structure. Lots of it.

And he gets it during football season, when he's at the club's Valley Ranch training facility most days from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. That's why most of his issues come to light during the season, even though they've occurred during the offseason.

Thanks to yet another late-season swoon -- collapse is probably a better word -- Bryant is about to embark on the most dangerous time of year for him. The new CBA has reduced the amount of time the club can ask its players to be at its facility.

The offseason program has been reduced to nine weeks total. That's a lot of free time for a guy who doesn't need it.

Garrett, as you would expect, has no interest in publicly talking about how the Cowboys will attempt to structure Bryant's offseason to keep him away from drama.

All you need to know is that it's high on the club's priority list, as it should be, especially in the Roger Goodell era. We all know the NFL commissioner wields a bigger hammer, which he has no problem using.

We also know Garrett spends his time talking about having the "right" kind of guys on the roster. He loves the way Bryant practices and plays with passion and emotion.

But he's also smart enough to know Bryant is constantly doing a high-wire walk above disaster.

If this offseason is free from drama, we should take it as an indication Bryant is maturing and moving toward becoming a franchise player. If not, then there's no way he'll see a second contract -- and the Cowboys might move him before this deal is done.

It's entirely up to Bryant.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.