After word came yesterday that the New Orleans Saints had signed former Oklahoma State University All-American and former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro WR Dez Bryant, some of the team's very passionate and at-times critical supporters had a hard time believing that the Saints were so willing to take a gamble on a player with Bryant’s alleged personality issues, into a still-developing locker room of mostly young players age 25 or less.
But do Saints fans really need to be WORRIED about Bryant's past?
The answer to that question likely depends on your point of view of the signing itself, although all indications are that the 30-year old has undergone a slight "attitude adjustment" and has consciously (and willingly) decided to remain on his very best behavior while trying to repair the damage that's been done to his bad reputation around the League.
So just why did Bryant actually leave Dallas in the first place?
While there isn't any question that a series of injuries in the past few seasons along with a notable decline in his receiving skills after the last 10 years, led to his eventual release; the assumption has always been that it was his personality within the Cowboys locker room that made him expendable to Cowboys team brass (namely long-time owner Jerry Jones and his son, Stephen Jones).
The speculation has been that a lot of Bryant's issues were caused by the Cowboys' lack of recent success; and the frustration of losing games along with the decision by Dallas head coach Jason Garrett to limit or scale back his role in the team's passing attack, may not have gone over well for the intensely competitive Bryant.
This past Summer while Bryant was a free agent and visiting prospective NFL teams that were interested in acquiring his services, he didn't exactly get a rave review from some of his former Cowboys teammates, most notably linebacker and team captain Sean Lee — who candidly told reporters that his issue with Bryant was all about accountability for his own actions both on AND off the field.
"First thing, to say that I can get anybody off the team and have any influence on the roster is absurd," Lee said. "Second thing, I love Dez and I want the best for him. You know, to be honest, we did butt heads because I wanted Dez to be more accountable to this team and his teammates, and to be honest, a lot of the team felt that way. I think he needs to look at himself and hold himself accountable."
During the past two years specifically, Bryant's evidently-increasing lack of production was partially blamed on the Cowboys' transition from retired QB and team living legend Tony Romo to now-starter Dak Prescott.
Bryant averaged just over 52 yards per game last season, and while it's clear that he was one of Romo's favorite targets, the fact that he couldn't succeed with another QB throwing him the ball was a concern for any potential suitor.
Albert Breer of SI.com reported that the Cowboys’ coaches began to see Bryant slip physically in 2015 and never thought that he was the same player he was when the Cowboys signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract in that same year. That physical decline is measurable according to Breer, and he noted that Bryant has lost inches on his vertical jump.
Then, there were also the injury concerns.
Bryant has dealt with a number of ailments the past 3 years: He’s battled foot, ankle, back, and knee injuries, which have caused him to miss 10 games the past three seasons (after stringing together 3 seasons of all 16 games played between 2012-2014). To his credit, Bryant was able to play all 16 games in 2017.
The lack of recent production and nagging injuries aside, Bryant had some very notable emotional outbursts in games both on the field and on the sidelines — and how that will now "mesh" with a now mostly-young Saints team that's being built with players that are talented but also have been chosen for their high standards and good character, is undoubtedly what had some of those Saints fans worried yesterday.
While it's easy to assume that Bryant is going to be given every opportunity for a "fresh start" in NOLA, the reality is that there are those who feel that Bryant potentially could be a huge DISRUPTION for a Saints franchise that is surely trying to build a team filled with players who have no such issues as Bryant has had in the past.
While it's certainly true that the Saints front office has made it rather abundantly clear in recent years that there are certain boxes that players need to check in order to fit into the "culture" they want in their locker room; they made an exception for Bryant simply because the Galveston, Texas native has made a sincere effort to "straighten up and fly right".
As noted yesterday by my good friend and Canal Street Chronicles Managing Editor / beat writer John Hendrix: the Saints organization has done their "homework" and due diligence on what type of an impact that a potential signing of Bryant would have on the entire franchise, and they had actually been considering it for several months.
Now that's it done, what I can tell you is that the Saints vetted Dez Bryant hard months ago. Was told team cleared it through some players. They even asked Jason Witten and Tony Romo for their thoughts. He's been on the radar. Payton loves him.
— John Hendrix (@JohnJHendrix) November 7, 2018
In the end, they determined that the 9th year veteran could help them more on the field than he can hurt them off of it, and they additionally feel that being around and playing with respected veterans such as Drew Brees and Benjamin Watson, will ultimately prove to be beneficial to Bryant in the end.
Also keep in mind: Bryant has a very close personal relationship with Saints head coach Sean Payton; and you can DEFINITELY believe that Payton has already told Dez what their expectations of him are as a person, and not just as a player.
The bottom line is simply that the Saints are "all in" on winning the Super Bowl this year, and they think that if nothing else, Bryant can become a solid contributor for them and eventually help them achieve that goal.
Conversely, Dez wants to essentially "clear his name" and end his playing career on a high note, which of course would be winning the Super Bowl.
Simply put: Dez has been HUMBLED.
And with the "breaking news" that the Saints are placing 4th year veteran WR Cam Meredith on injured reserve sometime later today, the team certainly needs Bryant to come in and provide the team with much-needed depth at the WR position.
More background on why Saints are now signing Dez Bryant: New Orleans’ WR Cameron Meredith is being placed on injured reserve and will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery, per sources. Meredith is expected to make a full recovery.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 8, 2018
#Saints HC Sean Payton is open-minded about whether to play Dez Bryant against the #Bengals Sunday. He will attend meetings and practice today. Payton has been in direct communication with Dez about his potential interest since before the 2018 draft.
— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) November 8, 2018
In the end, both parties NEED each other.
And it's for that reason why this signing was a "necessary evil" for New Orleans.
Both parties share a common goal, which is winning a World Championship — and it's why Saints fans don't have to worry about Dez Bryant's past. Or at least not for now, anyway....