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Dez Bryant surprisingly released by the Cowboys. What happened?

Bryant’s tenure in Dallas is over.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dez Bryant was the Cowboys’ leading receiver last season. But the team announced on Friday that they would be releasing their star wideout.

The team hasn’t been satisfied with Bryant, even though he had a team-best 838 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season. As a matter of fact, team vice president Stephen Jones all but came right out and said Bryant wasn’t living up to his salary or the team’s expectations.

Bryant reacted to the news shortly after, congruent with what he was tweeting just the night before about being “unbotheredby media reports.:

Team owner Jerry Jones released a statement on the matter, saying it was the best decision for the team:

Bryant said he has no hard feelings toward Jerry Jones.

“Jerry Jones, he loved me to death and I loved him too,” Bryant told Jane Slater on NFL Total Access. “I honestly believe in my heart that this was a hard decision for him. But when it’s five, six guys at a table against one guy, you got to do it.”

Bryant hasn’t eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark since 2014. He was tied for third in the league last year for dropped passes, and he cost the team $17 million last season. Now his time in Dallas has come to an end. Here’s why.

Bryant rubbed Cowboys’ management the wrong way in 2017.

Bryant’s had quite a history of sideline outbursts and tirades directed at the media. The team has generally supported him, like back in 2013 when Bryant claimed a tantrum on the sideline was “all positive.” Video and sound released later by the NFL corroborated that.

Bryant has repeatedly said he doesn’t care what the media thinks about his sideline demeanor. Jerry Jones didn’t seem to, either, when he framed Bryant’s personality as a positive thing for the team during the 2015 season.

“I’m going to tell you one thing, he’s got a passion. There’s just no stopping it. You just can’t calm him down when he gets going. He uses a lot of energy doing that,” Jones said on 105.3 the Fan in Dallas. ”That’s his passion. And this team uses some of that passion. It’s not a negative thing.”

But that changed in 2017. Bryant had a blowup on the sideline during the Cowboys’ Christmas Eve loss to the Seahawks right after he dropped a crucial pass. He fumbled his next target and finished with three catches for 43 yards. The Cowboys lost, 21-12.

After the season wrapped up, Stephen Jones said Bryant’s behavior can be problematic.

“It is certainly visible to anyone who watches our games, watches our sideline, is Dez is certainly a fiery guy who plays with a lot of emotion both on and off the field,” Jones said on the team’s official Hangin’ with the Boys podcast. “Sometimes that can be a distraction. It can be a distraction for Dez, it can be a distraction for other teammates.

“And we just have to really get our hands around when you put all the full body of work together where that’s headed.”

Bryant’s passionate about the game, and that’s not a bad thing. But his productivity makes it harder for the team to look the other way on his outbursts. Bryant averaged just over 52 yards per game last season.

He was the perfect WR for Tony Romo, but not Dak Prescott.

It would be easier for the Cowboys to keep accepting Bryant’s behavior if he were tearing it up on the field. But he isn’t, and part of the reason Bryant hasn’t lived up to the team’s expectations is the shift from Romo to Prescott.

Bryant has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark three times in his career. It happened in 2012, 2013, and 2014 — all seasons that Romo was on the field for at least 15 games.

Romo’s gone, blessing us all with his NFL observations in the booth for CBS. And Prescott is the Cowboys’ quarterback of the future, which changed Bryant’s worth to the team. Now Bryant will have to prove himself with a new quarterback and, for the first time in his career, with a new team.

Bryant’s contract exceeds his contributions.

Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million contract extension with the Cowboys before the 2015 season. He was set to count $16.5 million against the cap in 2018, which is excessive for a receiver who didn’t surpass 100 receiving yards in any game last season.

Stephen Jones was blunt about it.

“Of course we pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s as aware of it as anybody,” Jones said. “He knows when you get paid that kind of money there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity.”

Bryant shouldn’t have any trouble landing with a new team, but he’ll make substantially less money. But the relief was needed for the Cowboys:

Bryant was not designated for a post-June 1 cut. But he, and Tony Romo will be costing the team a nice chunk of change in 2018:

The Cowboys have valid reasons to move on from Bryant, particularly his price tag. But they might have some trouble replacing his productivity. They’ve got Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer still on the roster. Those three players combined had just 85 more yards than Bryant did last season.

However, based on the numbers, it’s a move the Cowboys felt they had to make:

Dallas has to think about life after 35-year-old Jason Witten, and the Cowboys still have pressing needs at linebacker and the interior defensive line, but cutting ties with Bryant makes receiver an urgent need, too.

Now, the Cowboys’ depth chart at WR doesn’t look so great.

Bryant has been the Cowboys’ best receiver since he came into the league. Now, the team is left with Beasley, Butler, and Switzer. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if they looked to the early rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft for help.

They signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency this offseason, but as it stands right now, Prescott could stand to use another receiver or two in his arsenal.

Dallas holds the No. 19 pick in the draft this year, which could help the team get a top receiver like Calvin Ridley or Courtland Sutton. Oklahoma State’s James Washington, who met with the Cowboys in January, is projected as a second-rounder and could be a solid target for Dallas later in the draft.

This isn’t the first time Jerry Jones has moved on from a franchise cornerstone. He’s moved on from Emmitt Smith, DeMarcus Ware, Larry Allen, and Terrell Owens in the past. Now, he’ll be looking for the next in line to succeed wearing the famed Cowboys star.