Dez Bryant has always played football with his heart on his sleeve.
Even to his own detriment at times, the Dallas Cowboys’ star wideout has always run on pure emotion in the heat of battle, thoughtlessly determined to do whatever it took to help his team win.
That mentality has been both a blessing and a curse for the three-time Pro Bowler.
On one hand, it helped forge the ultimate competitor whose God-given abilities far surpassed nearly every other receiver on the football field. However, that same stubbornness to be great negatively affected his physical well-being. Many times he played when his body would have been much better off receiving the rest it desperately needed. He invested more in the Cowboys than his own health. When given a chance to reflect on his career, that decision remains one of his biggest regrets.
“I’d tell [younger players] to get their body right,” said Bryant told Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota. “I would tell them that that’s a mistake that I made. I’d tell them to get their body right. Keep it healthy, that should be the No. 1 goal. Sometimes you got to make those sacrifices. It’s hard. You want to be out there on that field. You want to make plays. You want to be out there with your teammates. But you can’t compromise your body. That’s what I’d tell them.”
Bryant’s words sound like the advice of a 29-year-old quarterback who has finally gotten a glimpse of the mortality of his football career.
The Cowboys are already moving in a different direction with the offense, and Bryant, the same player who put his body on the line for eight seasons, could become a cap casualty in the offseason. His decision to play through multiple injuries, including foot, ankle, knee and hamstring problems, caused his drop in production over the last three seasons.
However, those herculean efforts are rarely taken into consideration at the negotiating table. Football is a business based on production, and Bryant’s numbers haven’t aligned with his previous Pro Bowl seasons. That has led to talks of a potential pay cut heading into his ninth season with the team that drafted him.
Young players could definitely learn a lesson from Bryant’s situation. A player’s body is his vehicle for making a living, and it isn’t worth compromising when injured. New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham’s hopes of sitting out the entire 2018 preseason after fracturing his left ankle speaks to Bryant’s advice. If Beckham returned too soon and injured himself again or had a down year, it could have cost him millions of dollars and potentially a roster spot with the Giants.
Health will always be the key factor in production.
Bryant isn’t telling players to defy their teams and refuse to enter games whenever they’re a little nicked up. Quite the contrary, he wants them to prepare mentally for the hardships of playing through pain. However, he also wants them to be aware of their bodies. It’s okay to take the foot off the gas when the vehicle is damaged.
Perhaps Bryant would still be discussed among the best receivers in the league if he simply heeded his own advice.