The Dallas Cowboys released Dez Bryant on Friday, deciding salary cap relief with the star receiver's declining production outweighs the risk of him returning to All-Pro form with another team.
Bryant never lived up to the $70 million, five-year contract he signed after leading the NFL with 16 touchdowns receiving in 2014. He still had two years left on that deal with a base salary of $12.5 million per season.
"This was not an easy decision. It was made based upon doing what we believe is in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said in a statement. "We arrived at this crossroad collectively with input from several voices within the organization. Ultimately we determined it was time to go in a new direction."
The release clears about $8.5 million in salary cap space for the Cowboys.
Bryant, 29, sent a series of tweets addressing Cowboys fans after he met with Jones at the team's headquarters.
On a tweet that included a copy of Jones' statement, he wrote "Key words in this statement.. Several input.. something I already knew"
"Cowboy nation I need you to know this wasn't my decision.. I will always love y'all... forever Dallas in my heart," he wrote in another post, which came only minutes after he tweeted, "let's start the process" in a reference to free agency.
Bryant is the franchise leader with 73 touchdown catches, ahead of Hall of Fame receivers Bob Hayes (71) and Michael Irvin (65). Tight end Jason Witten has 68 career TD catches.
During the 2014 season when Bryant's 16 TD catches helped the Cowboys win the NFC East, they also won a playoff game for only the second time since the last of their five Super Bowl titles in the 1995 season.
But Bryant hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since getting the new contract. Bryant played all 16 games without a 100-yard receiving day last season for the first time in his career.
Injuries were the main reason for his decline, starting with a broken foot in the 2015 season opener.
Bryant was the Cowboys' first-round pick in 2010, taken 24th overall out of Oklahoma State.
"As an organization we hold Dez Bryant in the highest regard, and we are grateful for his passion, spirit and contributions to this team for the past eight years. He will always be a valued member of our family," Jones said. "Dez and I share a personal and professional relationship that is very strong, and he is one of just a handful of players with whom I have become that close to over the past 30 years."