On Tuesday, executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team does not have any meetings scheduled with Bryant’s agent to talk about reworking his contract. Asked Wednesday if he wanted Bryant to return to the Cowboys in 2018, head coach Jason Garrett said the team has not had specific personnel meetings about any players yet.
“We had a wrap-up meeting at the end of the season, almost reviewing what happened last year,” Garrett said from the NFL scouting combine, “and we’ll have some more meetings starting this week, and then once we get back to Dallas about the specific roles for each of our players going forward.”
If Bryant’s future with the team was secure, there would be no need to entertain the possibilities of releasing him or asking him to take a pay cut, and the front office and coach would say so. The Cowboys’ decisions are these: Pay him $12.5 million and have him count $16.5 million against the cap, ask him to take a pay cut or release him.
There is no pressing need to make a move almost two weeks before free agency begins, since the Cowboys do not need the extra cap room.
“Obviously, a [decision] is going to happen sooner than later,” Jones said. “We’ve got the new year coming up. We have a lot of moving parts. We have been getting our staff together. Once we got our staff together, we have had some meetings. Then, of course, Jason [Garrett], his father passed, which was very unfortunate. We will spend a lot of time together this week. I’m sure we will start to make some pretty good headway.”
Like Jones, Garrett praised Bryant’s time with the Cowboys. Bryant is the franchise leader in touchdown catches. He put up three straight seasons with at least 1,200 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns.
“We have a tremendous amount of love for Dez Bryant as an organization,” Garrett said. “He’s made so many contributions to our team. I personally have a lot of love for him as a player and more so as a person. The growth and development that he’s made over the course of his career with us has been exponential and has made a huge impact on our team.”
But business intersects with production. Bryant’s production has fallen in the past three years, and not solely because of his play. He had foot and knee injuries in 2015 and ’16. The Cowboys had poor quarterback play in 2015, with Tony Romo playing just four games because of a twice-broken collarbone. In 2016, the Cowboys were a run-first offense led by Ezekiel Elliott. In 2017, the offense stagnated in the second half of the season in part of because of Elliott’s suspension.
“Obviously, there are a lot of decisions we have to make with our team,” Garrett said. “Like we’ve talked about, your 2018 team will be different than 2017. We have some guys who are out of contract. We have some guys at different kinds of contracts that you have to discuss every year.”
Three QBs from College Football Playoff among 131 players on official early entry NFL draft list
Ohio State junior quarterback Justin Fields is among 98 players granted special eligibility by the NFL into the league’s draft, while national championship-winning QBs Mac Jones from Alabama and Trevor Lawrence from Clemson are among another 30 players eligible after completing their degrees and deciding not to play more in college.
Those 128 players, plus three more who inquired about their draft status but didn’t need special eligibility, were on the NFL’s official list released Friday as available to be drafted after giving up their remaining college eligibility. The 131 total players is 11 more than last year, but still below the record 132 two years ago.
Fields, Jones and Lawrence, three of the starting quarterbacks from the four-team College Football Playoff earlier this month, had previously said publicly they were moving on to the NFL. The draft is April 29-May 1 in Cleveland.
They accounted for half of the six quarterbacks on the early entry list. The others are Zach Wilson after leading BYU to an 11-1 season, Stanford’s Davis Mills and Trey Lance, who led FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to a national title a year ago.
National champion Alabama has five players leaving early after beating Ohio State in the CFP title game on Jan. 11, with All-America quarterback Jones and linebacker Dylan Moses both early graduates. All-America cornerback Patrick Surtain II, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and receiver Jaylen Waddle were among the 98 players who met the NFL’s three-year eligibility rule.
Lawrence was 43-2 as Clemson’s starter and led the Tigers to the national title at the end of the 2018 season.
The 30 players with college eligibility remaining after completing their degree requirements had to notify the NFL of their intentions for the draft. That was up from 16 such players last year.
As for those 98 players granted special eligibility without yet finishing their degrees, that was one fewer than last year and the lowest total since 95 in 2017. Players less than four years removed from high school who have not completed a degree need to be granted special entry to the draft by the NFL.
Southern California has the most players leaving early for NFL draft eligibility with six. Stanford and Ohio State matched Alabama with five each.
That total for Stanford doesn’t include offensive tackles Walker Little and Foster Sarell, who inquired about their draft status but can be selected without the need for special eligibility. The only other player in that group was UAB linebacker Jordan Smith.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, still in concussion protocol, at practice again Friday
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes was with the Kansas City Chiefs as they began Friday’s practice session, their last one before Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium.
His participation on Friday would appear to put Mahomes on a path to play Sunday. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Mahomes took all of the snaps in Wednesday’s practice and a majority of them on Thursday.
Mahomes was knocked out of last week’s divisional-round playoff win over the Browns with symptoms of a concussion after he was tackled hard on a running play. He has been in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Three other key Chiefs players who have been fighting injuries were also present for the start of Friday’s practice: wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf), running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (hip, ankle) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (concussion, shoulder).
Coach Sean McDermott said the Bills were preparing for Mahomes to play.
“I guess at the beginning of the week we weren’t quite sure, and we really won’t know, I guess,” McDermott said. “It’s probably trending in that direction, so that’s what we’re anticipating.”
ESPN’s Mike Reiss contributed to this report.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown ruled out for NFC title game vs. Green Bay Packers
“I just talked to him this morning, and to put him on the plane and fly up there and have it swell more doesn’t any sense,” Arians said. “He wasn’t as close as we’d hoped, so we’ll get him ready for the next one.”
Brown suffered a knee injury in the divisional playoff game at the New Orleans Saints and played only 27 snaps. He did not practice this week.
Arians had described him as “day to day,” but Brown wasn’t able to progress quickly enough in his healing.
The former All-Pro led the Buccaneers in receiving targets the final five weeks of the regular season and had a 36-yard touchdown catch in their wild-card win over Washington. Brown also has experience playing in two league championship games and a Super Bowl, something few other players have on this roster outside of Tom Brady.
“It obviously sucks for Antonio. We wish he could be out there with us,” Brady said. “Other guys are gonna have to step up and do the job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that haven’t been out there as much when AB’s been in there.”
Arians said he believes Scotty Miller and rookie Tyler Johnson will be able to step up. Johnson made a key third-down catch for 15 yards against the Saints. Miller had one catch for 29 yards against New Orleans, but he has been on the receiving end of some of Brady’s best deep pass plays this season — a 33-yard touchdown grab against the Las Vegas Raiders and a 48-yard touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.
“I think if you just look to last week, when Scotty and Tyler made those huge plays in the fourth quarter, the amount of trust that the coaches and Tom have in those guys just because they’ve earned it. Their performances have earned it,” Arians said. “Antonio will be missed, but we’ve got capable people stepping in.”
Arians said there is a possibility that defensive tackle Vita Vea will play after returning to practice this week for the first time since fracturing his ankle in Week 5.
“He’s looked real good. He’s been running around for almost three weeks and had a real good practice yesterday and a good one today,” Arians said. “We haven’t made that determination yet, but we’ll see if we want to activate him or not. There is a chance.”
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