Late for Work 1/24: Playing in Black and Purple Appeals to Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant smiles during warm ups before a 2017 NFL football game. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant smiles during warm ups before a 2017 NFL football game. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Playing in Black and Purple Appeals to Dez Bryant

Former All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant took to Twitter to name three "dream" teams he would like to play for after sitting out the past two seasons, and the Ravens were one of them.

The other two were the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints (or Pittsburgh Steelers???). He didn't actually name the teams, but he made it fairly clear who they were by identifying their color schemes.

After spending eight seasons with the Cowboys before becoming a free agent in 2018, Bryant signed with New Orleans that November, but suffered a torn Achilles in practice two days later and never played a game for the Saints. Bryant reportedly had turned down a multi-year offer from the Ravens before the start of the 2018 season.

When an apparent Ravens fans tweeted to Bryant that he'd welcome him playing in Baltimore even though he had previously turned the team down, Bryant replied that he's in a better place mentally.

It remains to be seen whether the Ravens would have interest in the 31-year-old Bryant, whose production dipped during his last three seasons in Dallas, but there has been speculation that the Ravens might look to sign a veteran wide receiver this offseason.

Similar signings worked out well for the Ravens in the past, as star wide receivers Steve Smith Sr., Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin signed with the Ravens in their early or mid-30s and went on to have three or more productive seasons in Baltimore.

When Bryant tweeted a couple months ago that he was looking to return to the NFL, Ebony Bird's Dan McCann wrote that the Ravens should at least consider the possibility of signing him.

"The Ravens should do their due diligence on Bryant, bring him in for a talk and work him out," McCann wrote. "A one-year contract to a guy who has proven to you that he is healthy, able and willing to help is worth it. Bryant has proven to be a fierce competitor and extremely gifted contested-ball receiver and could help this team in a key moment. But only at the right price. If they get outbid, they get outbid."

Lamar Jackson Didn't Leave His Room After Playoff Loss

To some NFL fans, the Pro Bowl is a meaningless exhibition. But for Ravens fans, seeing Lamar Jackson flashing his million-dollar smile this week at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., is priceless.

In the days following the Ravens' stunning loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC playoffs, however, Jackson wasn't doing much smiling.

"I didn't leave my room, to be honest," Jackson told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. "I wasn't frustrated. I was hurt. I was depressed. It was like, 'I don't even want to go outside right now. I'm not happy right now.' There was nothing to celebrate."

Ravens veteran safety Earl Thomas III said the lighthearted atmosphere surrounding Pro Bowl week has been therapeutic, and it seems Jackson -- the AFC's starting quarterback, Pro Bowl's leading vote-getter, and presumptive league MVP -- feels the same way.

"I'm starstruck," the 23-year-old Jackson said of interacting with the best players in the sport. "But at the same time, I'm having fun."

That much is obvious. It's also apparent that on a field awash with stars, Jackson commands the stage even though it's not his intention to be the center of attention. Jackson is just being himself, and his unassuming nature and humility is infectious.

"Just look for the crowd and there was Jackson smack dab in the middle of it," Zrebiec wrote. "He ran onto the field, greeting fans and signing autographs. He held court with AFC teammates and coaches. He stood in the end zone after practice and was surrounded by reporters looking for interviews and fans hoping for an autograph and a picture. No player on the AFC squad generated more fanfare."

The Associated Press' Mark Long described Jackson as "the most popular guy without mouse ears at Disney World this week."

"Fans chanted his name throughout two days of practice at ESPN's Wide World of Sports and clamored for his autograph before and after workouts," Long wrote. "To get a picture, fans needed to get in line and prepare for a wait similar to those at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. … He's been so mobbed by TV cameras to the point where he needed to juke through the crowd to find some open space."

Even family members of Jackson's teammates have been swept up in Lamar Mania this week, Long wrote.

Marlon Humphrey's sister interrupted the cornerback while he was signing autographs and wrapping up an interview to let him know that their mother needed his help – she wanted a picture with Jackson on the field.

"[Marshal] Yanda's daughter ran up to him during an interview, grabbed his hand and begged him to look at her shirt," Long wrote. "She spun around, tossed her hair to one side and unveiled Jackson's signature."

While this week has been fun for Jackson, he made it clear he's hoping to miss next year's all-star game because he'll be busy preparing for the other bowl.

"I feel like the loss was a lesson, just like the playoff loss my rookie year," Jackson said. "We got better off that, so we just are going to come back. We're going to get to the playoffs again and the next time is going to be totally different."

Marquise Brown Is 'Going to Be Dangerous' Next Season

Rookie wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was not one of the record-tying 13 Ravens selected for the Pro Bowl, but Jackson has no doubt Brown's time will come sooner than later.

"Even though he was hurt with his foot, he still felt like he should be Julio [Jones] already," Jackson told ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "I told him, 'Bro, you're good. Your foot's not already 100 and you're making plays.' This year, he's going to be dangerous."

Jackson is not alone in his thinking. Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox identified the speedy Brown as the Ravens player most likely to have a breakout season in 2020.

"There are two big reasons Brown could go from promising rookie to bona fide star in 2020," Knox wrote. "[add]The first is that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will have another year of NFL experience under his belt. That means another year of growth — which could yield some impressive results, based on the growth he showed between Years 1 and 2. It also means another year of building chemistry with Brown, who was Jackson's second-favorite target behind tight end Mark Andrews.

"The second reason is that Brown should be healthy in 2020. Injuries cost him two games in 2019, and he came into the season still recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Strictly from a physical standpoint, Brown may be in better shape to break out next season."

Despite never being at full speed, Brown had 46 receptions for 584 yards and seven touchdowns, which tied the franchise record for touchdown catches for a rookie, set by Torrey Smith in 2011. Brown also had seven catches for 126 yards in the playoff game, including a spectacular 38-yard reception on a key third down late in the first half.

"One of the few positives for the Ravens in the loss was how Marquise Brown stepped up in a physical playoff game and delivered one of his best outings in his rookie season," Zrebiec wrote. "Brown's primary offseason focus will be on getting healthier and stronger. The Ravens have to be excited about his future."

Yanda's Decision Is Ravens' 'Most Pressing Situation'

While much of the talk regarding the Ravens' needs this offseason focuses on the front seven and wide receiver, ESPN's Hensley wrote that Yanda's future is their most pressing issue.

The eight-time Pro Bowl guard is signed through 2020 but has yet to decide whether he will return for his 14th season or retire.

"If Yanda returns, the Ravens will bring back every starter from the league's highest-scoring offense and best rushing team," Hensley wrote. "If Yanda calls it quits, Baltimore will lose its anchor along an underrated offensive line, leaving a huge void in the middle of it. … It's difficult to believe the Ravens can find someone to play at Yanda's high level immediately."

The Ravens obviously want Yanda back, but Head Coach John Harbaugh said, "He'll do what's right for his family and whatever he does, we'll respect it."

Yanda has given no indication as to when he'll announce his decision, but Hensley wrote that "he'll likely want to inform the team of his decision by March so the Ravens know whether they need to address a starting spot on the offensive line in free agency."

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