FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dez Bryant didn’t seem sure how to respond when asked if he would be willing to take a pay cut after perhaps the most difficult season of the Dallas receiver’s career.
Once the 2014 All-Pro came to his senses, he was emphatic.
“Hell no, man,” Bryant said Wednesday, three days after the Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Seattle. “I believe in me.”
Bryant opened up in his first lengthy session with reporters in weeks, taking responsibility for a subpar season by saying he let frustrations affect him during games. But he also said some of those frustrations were rooted in the offensive scheme, which he said he would probably address with owner Jerry Jones and coaches in the offseason.
The eighth-year pro also blamed some of his struggles on knee tendinitis, something that hadn’t been revealed. Bryant was listed on the injury report for three weeks earlier in the season, including one week when he missed two practices when an ankle injury also was listed.
But Bryant didn’t miss any games, and is on the verge of going all 16 without a 100-yard outing for the first time in his career unless he sits for a meaningless finale Sunday at Philadelphia. In his second season in 2011, Bryant didn’t reach 100 yards in 15 games, missing one for injury.
“I consider myself a warrior,” Bryant said. “If I can walk, I can move, I’m going to go out there and try to play. That’s probably dumb, but hey, that’s just who I am. I love this game, and I try to push it, but for the most part, yeah, I have been pretty banged up.”
Injuries are part of the reason Bryant hasn’t lived up to the $70 million, five-year contract he signed after his All-Pro season. He had career lows across the board in 2015 because of foot and ankle issues that kept him out of seven games.
A knee injury knocked him out of three games last year, but he was productive otherwise and capped the season with 132 yards and two touchdowns in the top-seeded Cowboys’ playoff loss to Green Bay.
Overall, though, the numbers are sobering for a player due to make $12.5 million with a salary cap hit of $16.5 million in 2018.
In the three years before the big contract, Bryant averaged 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns per season. With a game he might not play remaining, the averages in the three years since are 49 catches, 671 yards and six TDs.
“I’m a grown man, and I should be able to sit there and have my frustrations in check, regardless of whatever the situation might be,” Bryant said. “All I know is if my mind’s not cluttered, I can beat whoever, whenever, anybody at any time. It’s just sometimes I let certain things get to me that I shouldn’t.”
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan brushed off Bryant’s comments about the scheme, saying it’s the same one Dallas used on a franchise-record 11-game winning streak last season during the sensational rookie years for quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
“That whole word ‘frustration,’ that’s what everybody’s focus is on if you don’t win,” Linehan said. “The system hasn’t changed and there’s no difference. When you don’t win, people aren’t in as good a mood, I guess.”
Bryant has by far the most targets on the team with 124, but has connected with Prescott just 53 percent of the time (66 catches). Again, Bryant pointed to the staff, which didn’t seem to bother coach Jason Garrett.
“There’s been a number of those that have been very positive for us this year and there are other times it hasn’t been as good,” Garrett said. “You always look at the things you’re asking players to do, how you’re asking them to do it, when you’re asking them to do it, how you’re preparing for them to do it. You can always do it better.”
The Cowboys could save $12.5 million in cap room by designating Bryant as a post-June 1 cut. While Bryant dismissed as “dumb” a question about whether he wanted to remain with Dallas, he didn’t ignore the idea of ending up elsewhere.
“If that came about, I’m still Dez Bryant,” he said. “I’m still going over the top. If it’s there where I can grab it, I’m going to grab it. That’s just who I am.”
Bryant hasn’t been that guy nearly as often the past three seasons.