Cowboys Exclusive: Inside DeMarco Talks

One side mentions Jamaal Charles as a goal to reach. The other side thinks about Barber/Felix/McCoy as a pitfall to avoid. One side thinks 1000 yards in half a season is a start. The other side sees 26-year-old runners as being near-finished. Where the lines are being drawn inside the DeMarco Murray/Cowboys contract talks, inside:



As I've written often in regard to the Dallas Cowboys' talks with Dez Bryant, "negative negotiation'' is not the Joneses' style. The same policy holds true in talks with DeMarco Murray and his rep, Pat Dye Jr. -- and what is there to be negative about, anyway?

Through 10 games Murray is on pace for 1,972 rushing yards. He has a legit chance of reaching the lofty 2,000-yard mark, will almost certainly be the NFL's All-Pro honoree at the position and will be an MVP finalist ... and he's done it all while being a model citizen in and out of the Cowboys locker room.

Smile

Said Cowboys COO Stephen Jones: "I’ve been consistent in saying that we want to keep our good football players on our team. And I’ve been consistent in saying DeMarco Murray is one of those guys that we want to keep around. Not only is he a good football player, but better than that, he’s a top-notch individual. ... He stands for all the things we want to have as a Dallas Cowboy.''
But DeMarco -- who wants very much to remain a Cowboy -- won't get everything he wants.

A source close to Dye tells me that he's brought up the name Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs in his "comparison'' talks with Dallas. And it's a fair comparison, in terms of production. Charles this summer signed an extension that extends for two years and totals $18.10 million, including $8,300,000 guaranteed. It's tricky, though, because Charles' deal extends him beyond what were his existing two years and tacks on two more ... and gives him, over the course of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, about $30 million total.

The Cowboys' days of paying those sorts of dollars to running backs are over. And the reasons are two-fold.

One, they have wisely altered their entire philosophy on the running back position. In 2008, they fell in love with the idea that Marion Barber had plenty of football life left, and rewarded him with a seven-year deal worth $45 million.

Two years later, Barber was done with the Cowboys and essentially done with football.

Right about the same time, the Cowboys thought themselves so blessed at the position that they could afford to draft a "specialty'' player as a backup. They did so by spending the 22nd overall pick on Felix Jones.

A few years later, when his rookie contract expired, so did his unproductive stint in Dallas. (The fact that the Cowboys scouting department judged him to be superior to Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Charles is a story for another day.)

One year following the re-upping of Barber and the drafting of Felix, the 2009 Cowboys looked at their second-round draft board, and with the 51st-overall pick, saw a player with a first-round grade sitting right there.

And they passed on drafting LeSean McCoy. Why? Because they felt they were already well-stocked at the position with Barber and Felix.

Those three philosophies have, I've been assured, all been altered. The Cowboys, with Will McClay assembling the draft board, won't "window-dress'' it with players they aren't willing to actually draft. They are also trying to fight the urge to select "specialty guys'' (maybe the "slot-corner'' Webb will be the last of those). ... while also becoming increasingly aware of the sweet spot that is the second round of the draft, where there are so many "hits'' to be had. And with cap-smart staffers bending Jerry Jones' ear, they are reminding themselves to be haunted by the Barber contract.

And when the DeMarco contract comes up at Valley Ranch, the Marion Barber name comes up at Valley Ranch. Every time.

Smile

In a sense, Murray is about to be punished for a crime committed by the Cowboys. It's not his fault the club goofed on Barber, Felix and McCoy. But they are prepared, at almost any cost -- or, at least, any cost over $4 million a year -- to avoid the same errors.

About $4 million a year, times four years. That's about where the Cowboys want to be on DeMarco, though that leaves lots of gray area and negotiating area. That's not a terrible number if it comes with a big guarantee, for instance.

But does Dallas want to lock itself into a big guarantee for a player at the advanced age of 26?

Whoa. Wait. Since when it 26 "old''?

Since teams are dumping the antiquated idea that running backs lose tread on their tires at age 30, that's when. There were concepts exchanged in October. But I don't know that Dallas has expressed this particular concept quite yet to Murray, because to do so would be "negative'' and that helps nothing at this point. But in the last few years, the rules of the game have changed in ways that make good running backs interchangeable and expendable. Charles, McCoy, Adrian Peterson and that group might be the last of a breed making near-QB money.

More applicable: Last year's free-agent RBs. Ben Tate, Donald Brown and Toby Gerhart got $3.5 mil a year. Knowshon Moreno got a one-year, $3 million deal. Rashad Jennings signed with the Giants for four years and $10 million. (And I know for a fact there are those inside Valley Ranch who think a back like Jennings at $2.5 mil a year would be very productive behind Dallas' line.)

When the Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle in 2012, it was with an expressed purpose, I was told: to continue a cycle started with the drafting of DeMarco in 2001, a cycle that will continue again when Randle (should he work out as a viable NFL back) be near the end of his contract, when Dallas drafted another runner ... and then, three years later, another ... and another. ...

In a salary-cap era, there's no need to employ a $5-mil running back when a $500,000 running back will do. That's how Dallas gets such value from DeMarco now. It's how Dallas wishes to do it post-DeMarco, if his demands make that necessary.

But it won't matter if Dallas can convince Murray and Dye that extremely productive runners fall off a cliff after age 26; Dallas simply needs to convince itself of that in order to hold the line while watching DeMarco get a well-earned $6-mil-a-year payday elsewhere. And here's the convincing set of numbers:

Let's peg Murray's 2014 production at 1,800 rushing yards. In NFL history there have only been 13 such performers age 26-plus. Not only do most of these guys find it difficult to replicate 1,800 yards again, four of the 13 were out of football within three years. More of an indictment than that: The Cowboys are in possession of a study that shows when "standout'' runners turn 28, their yards-per-game production goes down 18 percent ... at 29, down 30 percent ... at 30, down 45 percent ... at 31, down 46 percent ... at 32, down 55 percent.

And touchdowns? At those same ages, the TD production is reduced by 42 to 58 percent, respectively.

In short, the Cowboys don't want to pay DeMarco Murray for what he might do in the future because the numbers say he won't do what he's doing again.

"Running backs have kind of evolved in this league,” Stephen Jones said. “It’s tough for running backs to have a lot of longevity, but there are ones that do. DeMarco’s a leader and he takes good care of himself. I think his best football is ahead of him.”

That's the right thing to say. But the Cowboys aren't prepared to put their money where Stephen's mouth is.

Further weighing down the don't-overpay-DeMarco position: The bevy of running backs either at Valley Ranch now, on the street now, in the draft later or on the street later who could be the bellcow in the 2015 Dallas backfield for substantially less than $9 mil or $6 mil or wherever Dye draws the line here.

Smile

Ben Tate, a hot young commodity in Houston a year ago, just got cut by the Browns. Ryan Williams, a hot young commodity in Arizona two years ago, sits waiting on Dallas' practice squad. Adrian Peterson, with an expressed desire to "come home'' to Texas, might be a reasonable price tag away from making that dream come true. And in the draft? Where there was once a third-round Murray and a fourth-round Randle and an undrafted Lance Dunbar, there can be again, will be again.

It's too early to pinpoint THE name, but Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Miami's Duke Johnson, Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and South Carolina's Mike Davis might all be second-round worthy. Ah, that sweet spot.

One more time: I'm not able to be specific about the names involved in the next moves, and we are "educated-guessing'' with guidance on some of the dollars here. But the policies in play? We've got those nailed down now. A Jamaal-sized contract represents a ship that has sailed here, and maybe in the NFL as a whole. The devaluation of the running back? That's the reality right now, which is why DeMarco playing his last season with the Cowboys right now also seems a reality.



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