Cowboys’ Rico Gathers: I’m going to be next best TE

tight end Rico Gathers hasn’t played a regular-season game in two professional seasons, yet he’s confident Year 3 will mark his breakout.

The 24-year-old posted a message on Instagram over the weekend stating his goals for 2018 and beyond.

“Facts is facts,” Gathers wrote. “It’s only the beginning. Truth is I’m Ready for more. Been ready for more. The dilemma of me not being ready is over. I got a piece of it last year and it felt so good doing it, y’all will never understand that feeling. It was like the most epic scene of movie before the power goes out in ya house for a few hours and you forget all about what you was watching. I watched those two games the other day and I told myself “Ima be the next best tight end in this league” and I believe that with all my heart. lol y’all continue to hate while I continue to shine I love y’all, y’all make me better. God Knows my heart and that’s all that counts to me. #Blessed #HumbleandHungry #LemmeEat #IWantTheWholePieThisTime #NewSZNSameRZN #killeverything”

Those two games Gathers referred to were last year’s preseason tilts in which he compiled seven catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, looking every bit the athletic freak that got him drafted despite not playing football in college. However, Gathers suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit during training camp and was eventually placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

The tight end spent his rookie season on the Cowboys’ practice squad after being drafted in the sixth round.

The younger Jones continued to express hesitation in bringing Bryant back at a $12.5 million base salary Thursday night when the attended the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award ceremony.

“No one wants to compete and get after it more than Dez,” Jones said, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “At the same time, we all know this is a business where everybody has to be accountable. Certainly everybody knows that. That’s a tough one. Certainly we’re going to be grinding it out and trying to determine what is in the best interest of our business.

“Dez understands this is a business. No one thinks more of Dez Bryant than starting at the top, Jerry, and certainly me, his teammates, coach [Jason] Garrett, Will McClay. We all have a tremendous amount of respect for Dez. That’s one of the things that we’re going to have to work through as we move into our future.”

The Cowboys would have an easy time swallowing Bryant’s $16.5 million salary-cap hit if he’d played like a dominant No. 1 receiver in recent years. He hasn’t.

The 29-year-old wide receiver hasn’t reached the 900-yard barrier (let alone 1,000) since 2014. Since signing his new contract in 2015, Bryant is averaging 53.55 yards per game played (2,035 total yards in 38 games). For comparison, the NFL’s top wideout, Antonio Brown, has almost double that average over the same span: 103.35 yards per tilt (4,651 yards in 45 games). Even a 34-year-old Larry Fitzgerald has made Dez look old. Fitzy averaged 70.70 yards per game since 2015. (3,394 yards in 48 games). Bryant is closer (but still not better) than the production of Golden Tate, who has compiled 60.27 yards per game since 2015 (2,893 yards in 48 games) but makes way less money than the Cowboys’ star (Tate: $7 million in 2018; Bryant: $12.5 million).

Since his knee injury in 2016, Bryant hasn’t displayed the same type of explosiveness that could beat defenders one-on-one. As NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks wrote in September, Bryant’s lack of ability to separate from defensive backs in recent seasons, coupled with a limited route tree, has lowered his production significantly.

Players can sign the tender at any point after they are given the designation. Until the tender is signed, the team can rescind the franchise or transition tag — as we saw with Josh Norman two years ago. Once the sheet is signed, the player’s salary is guaranteed for that season. If a player does not sign the tender, they remain without a contract, and therefore are not subject to fine schedules for skipping offseason workouts (as we saw with Bell last summer).

Each team can only use one tag in a given year — they can’t designate both a franchise and transition player. A rescinded tender counts as a tag, meaning a team can’t designate one player, rescind it, and use a new tag on another player in the same year. A player can be tagged up to three times by his team, with a bump in pay each time.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported in December during the NFL’s league meeting that teams were given a 2018 salary cap projection of $174.2-178.1 million, according to a source. The franchise and transition tag numbers will be determined when the final salary cap number is officially set. The salary cap was $167 million in 2017.