Recently, in Titans fan circles on twitter, the debate has heated up as to whether Dez Bryant is worth pursuing in free agency. The topic has been brought up numerous times throughout the offseason, and now with injuries to key pass catchers like Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews, Titans fans are calling for GM Jon Robinson to bring in Bryant, the former Cowboy, to bolster the receiving corps.
In this article, we will examine the upsides and downsides to signing Bryant.
Before even getting into whether signing Bryant would be beneficial for the Titans, it is important to note that this may still be a longshot, and signing Bryant would not be easy.
Although the Titans can afford the price tag, which would likely be a one-year deal in the $7 – $10 million range, it is unclear whether Bryant even wants to play in Tennessee.
Many sources have linked him to the Browns and other teams, and he seems selective when choosing whom to play for. Bryant would come in at a tough time during the season; Marcus Mariota has spent a whole offseason and training camp developing chemistry with receivers Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe and Matthews.
Whichever team Bryant ends up playing for will likely have trouble getting him involved early as the timing between the quarterback and him will naturally have not developed.
That being said, it is clear that Bryant remains a very talented receiver who can potentially help the Titans. Let’s dive into some pros and cons of signing the former star.
Pro – Titans Needs, Bryant’s Skill Set
The biggest loss for the Titans in week one wasn’t the final score, it was losing Delanie Walker to an ugly leg injury.
Walker is an offensive captain and a guy Mariota can lean on when he’s in trouble. Unfortunately, Walker’s presence in the middle of the field is irreplaceable.
He’s the receiver Mariota trusts the most, a reliable blocker and a leader who the team responds to. When evaluating his game, it’s easy to notice that Walker makes his biggest impact over the middle, with short and intermediate routes.
The good news is that Bryant has a very similar skill set. While not the fastest, he makes up for his lack of elite athleticism by using his size and superior route running to free himself from coverage on short and intermediate routes.
While he can’t fill the gap created by Walker’s injury, there is no doubt he could help the Titans.
Additionally, Bryant can make an impact in the red zone. While Mariota has thrown zero career interceptions in the red zone, the Titans have had their ups and downs inside the 20.
They ranked #14 in red zone touchdown percentage in 2017, but it’s evident that their red zone offense needs improvement after the week 1 loss to the Dolphins, where they left plenty of points on the board.
One of the strengths of Bryant’s game is his ability to make contested catches. A physical target in the red zone would mean more touchdowns for the Titans.
Pro – Corey Davis’ Development
Many people feel Bryant has fallen off a cliff, and that he will never regain his pro bowl form. What can’t be argued is that he was once a dominant receiver.
The difference between getting open and getting smothered on a play as a WR can be a split second. Learning the intricacies of playing WR at a high level from Bryant would be invaluable to Davis.
Davis has more raw talent that Bryant ever had, and once he works on his technique, with help from Bryant, he could go from potential star, to consistent producer.
It may be wishful thinking to believe that Bryant will concentrate on the development of his teammates while he’s trying to prove himself to the rest of the league.
He has no obligation to help anyone get better, and it may be a nuisance to Bryant. At this moment, Bryant is unsigned and no team is willing to pay him. He needs to focus on his own game to get himself the big contract he wants.
Bryant is still a hard worker that definitely will help Davis to a some extent, even if it’s just a simple after practice workout. It remains to be seen if Dez can be a mentor to someone like Jason Witten was to him, especially if his commitment is a one-year deal.
Con – Decline in Production
While Bryant was once a dominant receiver, his production has dipped recently.
What is most troublesome in the image above is his dip in catch percentage. Catch percentage is the receiver’s number of targets divided by his number of receptions.
Bryant has had a dismal catch percentage his last three years, and with him only getting older, It’s hard to believe that he has room for improvement in this area.
Many also note that Bryant has had a hard time separating on routes in the past couple years. Bryant was never a great athlete, and it seems as though he is declining in that area.
Without much athletic ability, it is very difficult to separate on routes and be an easy target in the NFL. Wherever Bryant ends up, he likely won’t end up a top receiver. The arrow for Bryant is certainly trending downward.
Con – Attitude
Does Dez Bryant even want to play football? He was offered a one-year deal by the Browns during the offseason, which he declined.
The deal fell apart due to a dispute over money, as he wasn’t content with the $5 million dollar paycheck. His situation reminds many of Le’Veon Bell’s, in that they both had a chance to play in week 1 but didn’t because they wanted a big contract.
While he does deserve a nice payday, it doesn’t seem like there’s a line of teams looking to sign him and he’s not an elite receiver anymore. Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel have tried to install a culture of team first, hard working players.
Recently, all the guys they have picked up fit this bill, but Bryant may not. The Titans receivers have worked very hard this offseason, and if they get their snaps taken away by a guy who would rather watch week 1 games waiting for a payday than be out there, that would be a shell shocker and likely cause some disagreements within the team.
Con – Setbacks for Receiving Core
While Bryant’s arrival may benefit Corey Davis, The same cannot be said for the other pass catchers on the roster. Realistically, it is far fetched that the Titans compete for a Super Bowl this year.
They may make the playoffs, but they still aren’t ready to win it all. Why bring a player who has a reputation of being a bad locker room presence into the receiver room with developing players Jonnu Smith, Taylor and Sharpe?
That trio of young receivers would see their targets diminish greatly as Matt Lafleur’s offense rarely deploys 4 WR sets. With Walker out, Mariota has an opportunity to develop a rapport with other receivers now that Walker is hurt.
Walker is 34 and with retirement looming, it is imperative that someone steps up to fill his void. Bryant may be a short-term solution but would likely be a long-term setback.