Now halfway through the 2019 season, the exotic moves that make pro football an exciting chess game to watch are already starting to appear.

Fresh on the heels of rumor and speculation about wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s future with the Cleveland Browns, comes the news that former Dallas Cowboys superstar wideout Dez Bryant is, at least by his own proclamation, ready to return to the NFL.

From 2010 until 2017, Bryant was largely the catalyst of the Cowboys' offense, and his ability to make game-winning catches and crank out spectacular kick returns made him a football icon of that time period. He parted ways with Dallas under rumblings of conflict with Cowboy's Coach Jason Garrett over an offensive unit scheme that reportedly iced Bryant out of being an impact on the field.

Bryant then signed with the New Orleans Saints, but tore his Achilles as soon as he arrived there. The Saints chapter of his career was closed just as soon as it had opened.

The 31-year-old, 3-time Pro-Bowler Bryant made it known Wednesday that he will be shopping teams in the very near future, looking for a suitable place to land for his comeback, after recovering from that Achilles injury that kept him down and out of football for the past two years. Though he had made noise some time ago about his resurrection as that first-target receiver of his former self, Bryant sounds now to be more realistic in his expectations.

He sounds very much like a man who just wants to play football again.

That's stimulating news for a handful of teams working hard to get, or keep, a leg up in the battle for playoff success. One thing seems almost certain: absent failing a medical exam, Bryant will sign and play with an NFL team somewhere.

Whether that team will be the 49ers is the question, and while there is a downside to that possibility, there is also much to indicate that might be a very real scenario, and one which could serve to supercharge the 49ers as they move toward the post-season.

The situation in Camp 49er today is clear: The wide receiver problem that's lingered all year is better than it was, thanks to the addition of veteran Emmanuel Sanders, but it's still not fixed.

The 49ers' de facto number one receiver Marquise Goodwin has been dealing with personal and family issues over the last several weeks, keeping him out of both practice and games. Little has been said about the nature of those issues and no one seems to have addressed exactly how long Goodwin will be away from the team. But it has almost certainly had a negative effect and has left something of a void that hasn't been filled by any of the 49ers' remaining receivers, until Sanders arrived via trade a few weeks ago.

The 49ers have also been without the services of wide receivers Trent Taylor and rookie Jalen Hurd through the first eight games, and there's no guarantee that will change moving into the second half of the season. The team's acquisition of Sanders was huge, but it still needs help.

49ers receiver Dante Pettis has made key catches at times but has been plagued with inconsistency the entire season. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel, likewise, has shown flashes of the big-time player he will undoubtedly grow to be a year or two from now, but has dropped some key passes over the first eight games that indicate he is still in the maturing process as an NFL receiver. It's normal and expected that both Pettis, in just his second year, and rookie Samuel are both still going through growing pains and making on-field mistakes.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the flipside of their unexpected success this year has been that they can no longer wait around for Pettis and Samuel to mature. The team is amid a very real run for the Super Bowl right now and the better it can arm itself with offensive weapons, the greater its chances of taking out the teams it needs to eliminate in order to get there.

Is there a downside to bringing in a player like Dez Bryant? Certainly so. The 49ers have a team chemistry that has been solidifying all season, and adding a media-focused player who has, whether his fault or not, had conflicts with a previous coaching staff, always has the potential to disrupt that chemistry.

Bryant's health is in question as well. His Achilles injury was no small thing, and it's taken him out of football for a long time. Despite the video footage showing a relatively strong and agile Bryant moving on the field, that's a different thing than getting repeated snaps in a November game in the NFL.

Team doctors, of course, are the best to make that health evaluation. And 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch can almost certainly be trusted to evaluate Bryant's potential effect on the locker room. If such a thing happened and it went as well as integrating Emmanuel Sanders into the 49ers' family, the team has absolutely nothing to worry about.

In the end, everything is a risk-benefit evaluation. Though undoubtedly not the same person who lit up the scoreboard in Dallas four or five years ago, Bryant is almost assuredly still a highly talented player with the potential to blow a game wide open for the 49ers. He hasn't played a snap since December 2017, but while almost certainly not in peak playing condition, he seems to have been training well on his own and might be able to contribute significantly when he signs with an NFL team.

Dez Bryant may go elsewhere. It's a given that many teams, especially those in the playoff hunt, will be angling to adopt him, if only for the short term. But with the 49ers sitting at 8-0 and one of the most dominating teams in the NFL right now, it has to be the most attractive of options for Bryant, both for picking up a Super Bowl ring and for getting playing time. Beyond the immediate success of this team, the young 49ers also have a longer-term prospect of being great for several years to come. And that's a factor that may well play into Bryant's decision of where he wants to go.

This is the NFL and many things go into the formula of whether a player can be signed mid-season. Money, contracts, salary caps, injured reserve lists, depth charts, and even the whims of team owners and coaches can derail talks before they get started. But it's objectively a great fit, and the 49ers' management would be insane not to pursue Bryant with fervor.

Bryant's physical rebound from the Achilles injury, along with the somewhat questionable effect his personality may have on players around him, will play into any decision the 49ers may make in choosing whether or not to reach out to him. But nervousness shouldn't be the sole determining factor.

Other teams have rolled the dice on players with imperfect histories. Seattle did just that last week in signing receiver Josh Gordon, fresh from IR and with a track record of substance violations and off-field problems, If nothing else, perhaps the Seahawks have grasped the need to prepare for the hard battle ahead.

Dez Bryant may not end up in San Francisco, but by all analysis it could potentially be a win-win for both Bryant and the 49ers. I doubt that's an eventuality that other teams in the NFC want. Opposing teams would have to put together a defensive scheme that accounts for Sanders, Bryant and tight end George Kittle, and protect against the 49ers lethal running game at the same time. If you are a defensive coordinator, it's an almost nightmarish idea.

With Thanksgiving approaching, the 49ers need to be grateful for what got them here so far. But they also need to give thanks for opportunities that great teams often get when they are riding the wave of success. They need to do whatever they can, whenever they can, to wrap up the NFC West and secure a number one playoff seed.

And that's exactly why the 49ers need to look at making a deal with Dez Bryant happen.

Poll

  • Should the 49ers pursue signing Dez Bryant?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure