SAN ANTONIO - Dez Bryant is an $11.8 million man.
And so far - at least up until his ankle injury in the Dallas Cowboys' first few workouts in the San Antonio Alamodome - the 21-year-old from Lufkin, Texas appears to be worth every single dollar and final cent.
Bryant shows flashes of all the Cowboys' greats. He has the glitz and galmour, swagger and soft hands of Michael Irvin, even dunking the football over the field goal crossbar after a catch in the end zone Monday afternoon. During team offensive drills Tuesday, he showed the grace and quickness of Tony Hill. Later, he made a touch catch in traffic, a lot like Mr. Clutch, Drew Pearson.
That's why the backlash after the rookie refused to carry veteran receiver Roy Williams' pads after practice last week has been minimal. It's a long-standing tradition in professional football for veterans to haze newcomers by doing things like making them carry their pads on and off the field.
Bryant wasn't having anything to do with it. More importantly, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips has said Bryant doesn't have to carry anyone's pads if he doesn't want to. Phillips said that applies to any rookie. However, such privileges may be more tailormade to the most elite of rookies like Bryant. Including Tuesday's practices, Bryant completed three days of workouts without dropping a pass.
While it appeared quarterback Tony Romo was favoring his old targets like Williams, Miles Austin and Jason Witten Tuesday, he did manage to find the Cowboys' newest receiver on a handful of instances. Bryant was sure-handed each time and seemed to electrify the thousands watching practice in the Alamodome each time he came down with the ball. If that alone hasn't made him an early fan-favorite, his willingness to stay for as much as 30 minutes after practice to sign autographs has.
In July, Bryant was this season's first NFL first-round pick to sign a deal. According to the Cowboys, the former Oklahoma State University star receiver, will have a good chunk of his contract money guaranteed. The Associated Press said Bryant's guranteed money totals $8.5 million. The deal also immediately gives him $2.5 million in bonuses on top of his base salary of $320,000 for the season. There are also other incentives tied to his contract based on playing time.
If his performance in training camp is any indication, Jerry Jones may want to cut a check.
Gary Irvins from ESPN 1260 in Lufkin has known Bryant since he was a senior at Lufkin High School. He said the sure-handed receiver is a class-act on and off the field.
"I think Dez sometimes gets a bad rap," he said. "He's a good kid. He's never had any trouble with drugs or anything like that. The whole thing with Roy Williams was something that was made more of than it really was. He's apologized and is ready to move on."
With Austin and Williams already slated to start, the big 6-foot-2, 227-pounder is battling Patrick Crayton for the third receiver spot. Despite Crayton's break-out season in 2010, Bryant is expected to take his position.
Bryant missed most of senior year at OSU after being declared ineligible for lying to NCAA officials. He finished 2009 with only 323 yards and four touchdowns off 17 catches. Still, he established himself as one of college football's premier receivers as a junior in 2008. He had 87 catches for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns.