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With matchup vs. Saints looming, Cowboys react to Dez Bryant signing with New Orleans

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 11/8/2018 Jori Epstein

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FRISCO, Texas — The New Orleans Saints added a new weapon to their offense on Wednesday and Dallas Cowboys players noticed.

The Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins stand between the Cowboys and a matchup with ex-teammate Dez Bryant, who holds the Cowboys franchise record with 73 receiving touchdowns.

But Nov. 29, when the Cowboys host New Orleans on Thursday Night Football, will come quickly.

“It’ll be exciting to face Dez,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said Wednesday after practice. “He goes up and attacks the ball better than I’ve seen anyone.

“There’s nothing like adding another sharp tool to your toolbox. … It’s a scary offense.”

Elliott and Bryant formed the core of Dallas’ dynamic offense in 2016; their 26.3 points a game was ranked top five in the league. Elliott won the rushing title as a rookie and Dallas finished atop the NFC at 13-3.

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But the Cowboys released Bryant in April after eight years, including three Pro Bowl seasons. Dallas has since started 3-5, averaging just 19.2 points a contest. Bryant declined an offer in April from the Baltimore Ravens, per multiple reports, and visited the Cleveland Browns in August without agreeing to any terms.

The 2010 first-round pick stayed in Dallas most of the last seven months, working out with personal receivers coach David Robinson, spending time with his family, and addressing mental-health challenges, he’s said.

He stayed in touch with Cowboys teammates, too.

Elliott texted Bryant on Wednesday.

“I just told him, ‘Congrats, man, good luck on the season,’” said Elliott, who dismissed any suggestion that Bryant’s nine weeks without an NFL team spoke to the receiver’s ability. “I think it’s taken him this long on his end. Not because teams didn’t want him but he was waiting for the right team to go to, the right fit on his end.”

With New Orleans, Bryant can chase the Super Bowl title that has eluded the Cowboys for 22 years. 

Bryant caught 531 passes for 7,459 yards and 73 touchdowns with the Cowboys. But his last 1,000-yard season came in 2014; and his catch percentage the last three seasons dipped to 49.2 percent combined. He joins a New Orleans offense with talented running backs in Alvin Kamara (12 total touchdowns this season) and Mark Ingram. Michael Thomas leads Saints receivers with 880 yards and five scores in eight games, including a franchise-record 211-yard (and one great touchdown celebration) performance in New Orleans’ 45-35 win over the previously unbeaten Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

So Bryant won’t be the defense's first concern.

He wants that.

The freedom will yield a “very active” Bryant, Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said Wednesday.

Crawford spent time with Bryant in October at a Drake concert in late September.

“He looks like an animal,” Crawford raved of Bryant’s training this fall. “He’s been working, looks ripped, ready to go and in shape.

“I’m happy for him.”

Another caveat to the looming Dallas-New Orleans matchup: Cowboys defensive backs like Jourdan Lewis, who repeatedly matched up Bryant in practice, anticipate battles under bigger lights.

A popular highlight from the Cowboys’ All or Nothing series last season featured a Bryant-Lewis trash-talking battle that escalated to the point teammates needed to separate them. 

“A lot of people think he can’t play,” Lewis said Wednesday, “but I’ve seen him every single day. He still has a lot of juice left in him.”

That juice will come in full force when the third-most potent offense in the league, averaging 34.9 points per game, arrives at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 29.

The Cowboys look forward to it.

“It’s definitely going to be a good one,” Lewis said. “They already had a lot of talent on that offense so that’s just another thing we’ve got to worry about.

“A pretty big thing we got to worry about.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

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