Why Dez Bryant Deserves to Get Paid

Entering the final year of his rookie-contract, Dez Bryant wants to cash-in like other elite-level receivers. Has he truly earned it?

I feel the need to start this article by saying that judging solely on the merits of his acting career, I am not a fan Tom Cruise.

Aside from a decent role here and there (The Color of Money, A Few Good Men), Cruise seems to swing and miss more than he connects. Much in the same manner, Cuba Gooding Jr. really needs to be put in the right role in order to show his decent acting ability (Men of Honor, Radio).

Regardless of your personal opinions regarding either of these two, it’s difficult to deny the pop culture impact of their 1996 collaboration, Jerry McGuire.

I was 10 years old when this movie premiered, so my memory of it is a bit blurry. What I do remember, however, is the now famous phrase, “Show Me the Money!” A conversation between Cruise and Gooding Jr. regarding a new NFL contract still remains relevant to this day. In case you need a refresher, here’s a YouTube link to that scene (edited for workplace safety).

While this Hollywood portrayal of agent and player is obviously overdramatic for the audience’s sake, it’s not hard to imagine similar conversations occurring right now between NFL superstars and their representatives. After all, no one plays the game for free.

This brings us to Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Since entering the league in 2010, Bryant has totaled 293 catches for 4,104 yards and 40 touchdowns. In his last two seasons alone, he’s averaged 92 catches for 1,307 yards and 12.5 scores! If these numbers don’t make you take notice, you might want to check to see if you still have a pulse.

Bryant’s combination of size, strength and speed makes him nearly unstoppable when facing single-coverage. Most times, opposing defenses will at least send a safety to shadow Bryant wherever he goes on the field. Without a true number two wide receiver in the Dallas passing game, Bryant has done most of this facing double coverage, making his numbers even more impressive.

Bryant is now entering the last year of his original rookie contract, and is scheduled to make just over $2 million in 2014. It’s obvious that the Cowboys should, at some point, re-sign Bryant, who is one of the premiere playmakers in the game. And although $2 million sounds like a lot to most of us, Bryant’s compensation is shockingly low when compared to other highly paid NFL receivers.

The table below lists the top-five highest paid wide receivers according to

PlayerTotal ContractSalary per Year
Calvin Johnson$113.45 mil$16.21 mil
Larry Fitzgerald$113 mil$16.10 mil
Percy Harvin$64.25 mil$12.85 mil
Mike Wallace$60 mil$12.00 mil
Dwayne Bowe$56 mil$11.20 mil

It’s no surprise that Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are at the top of this list. Johnson is considered by most to be the best wide receiver in the league, and it’s possible to make a case for Fitzgerald being a close second, despite having poor quarterback play for the majority of his career.

The next three names on the list may be a bit more surprising.

Despite being solid, young NFL receivers, Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe have all been plagued by inconsistencies due to lack of production or injuries. When compared to Bryant's production and consistency, their presence on the list above does nothing but help Bryant’s belief that he belongs among the top-compensated receivers.

Here at numberFire, we use advanced metrics to go beyond simple stats to show how a players truly affects his team’s fortunes. Our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric is one of the main tools used to discover a player’s true worth by looking at how many actual points their performance added or subtracted from their team.

The table below shows how Bryant compares with these five wide receivers over the last four seasons (average seasons, not cumulative) using our Reception NEP, Target NEP and Reception NEP/Target.

PlayerReception NEPTarget NEPReception/Target
Calvin Johnson141.7266.870.87
Larry Fitzgerald93.664.350.61
Percy Harvin71.9737.490.72
Mike Wallace89.5138.390.79
Dwayne Bowe87.2931.520.70
Dez Bryant90.8747.790.78

A couple of notes from this table:

- I excluded Harvin’s 2013 statistics due to him missing 15 games and instead used his 2009-2012 totals.
- While Calvin Johnson’s NEP numbers stayed consistent and elite during the time frame, Fitzgerald’s and Harvin’s were up and down. Fitzgerald’s incredibly bad 2012 Target NEP (-47.76) was factored in, but needs to be prefaced by who he had throwing him the ball that season (John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley – try not to vomit) Keep in mind, Target NEP looks at the number of points added on all targets, and because the Cardinals force-fed the ball Fitz's way, a lot of bad came from his targets.
- Both Wallace and Bowe saw a consistent decline in all areas throughout the time frame used. Their averages are skewed towards the first couple of seasons analyzed. And, keep in mind, Wallace was with the Steelers at that time.
- Bryant’s NEP results dipped slightly in 2013, but have otherwise risen consistently through his career.

The aim of this comparison was not necessarily to prove that Dez Bryant is the best receiver in football. It was also not my intention to belittle any of the receivers who currently make the most money at their given position.

The goal, rather, was simply to figure out if Bryant is truly deserving of a large contract extension in the near future. When looking at his performance over his first four seasons, it’s clear that, not only does Bryant belong in the “best-in-the-game” discussion, but he has also rightfully earned his place among his big-money peers.

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones obviously has no problem spending money when he sees a worthwhile investment. The $1.3 billion stadium, nicknamed Jerry’s World in his honor, is proof enough. If he’s using the same rationale regarding his roster, he should see that Dez Bryant is well worth a large, long-term investment.