Cowboys DeMarco: A Future Outside Of Dallas
There was nothing rude about the question. There was nothing rude about the answer. The media and the public want to know about DeMarco Murray's thoughts as they relate to both his contractual future and his reflections on Sunday's 26-21 playoff loss at Green Bay.
The NFL's leading rusher and free-agent-to-be answered the query sincerely.
“I’m not worried about my future,” Murray said on Monday as Cowboys players packed their gear to depart Valley Ranch for what promises to be an eventful offseason. “I just lost a big game, the biggest game of my life. Just not worried about it right now. Just relax with my family and get away from it for a little bit.”
Murray is just 26 and is coming off one of the finest seasons in NFL history, one that will make him an MVP finalist. But his contractual future is more "set,'' if you will, than some assume. This is not, contrary what some have written, about the Cowboys "maybe not having the salary cap space to re-sign him.''
This is about a Dallas Cowboys' policy and whether DeMarco Murray is so special that the policy should be violated.
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.''
DeMarco on Monday refused to acknowledge how much he wishes to remain a Cowboy. “I’m not going to answer that,” he said -- a bit of wisdom in that such an admission could only lower his price tag here.
In another time and another place, if you lead the NFL and set a franchise single-season rushing record with 1,845 yards while scoring 13 TDs and hauling such a load that you record a league-high 392 carries, you get paid.
You get paid $7 million or $9 million or $14 million, like LeSean McCoy or Arian Foster or Matt Forte or most of all, like Adrian Peterson.
But this is not that time. This is not that place.
A source close to DeMarco's agent Pat Dye Jr. tells me the name Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs has been broached in the agent's "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.
Forget whether DeMarco is as good as Charles. The point is that in Dallas, he will never be paid $9 million a year. Nor, as things presently stand, will he be tagged, locking him in at $11 million for a year. Simply, 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 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 owner 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.
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. (How about more, for a shorter term? Maybe.) 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 is 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 between Dye and the Cowboys 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 negotiating,'' a Jerry no-no, and that would've helped nothing at that 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, 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 before him, 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 $6-mil running back when a $600,000 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 well-earned 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 $6-mil-a-year payday elsewhere. And here's the convincing set of numbers:
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.
Stephen Jones is frank about what this sort of trend means.
"Running backs have kind of evolved in this league,” 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 trust me, the Cowboys strongly prefer to not have 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.
The list of possibilities is long. Randle tops it, presently. Ryan Williams, a hot young commodity in Arizona two years ago, sits waiting on Dallas' practice squad. (And, CowboysHQ.com reports exclusively on Tuesday morning, has just signed a two-year deal to remain with Dallas.) 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, even with all DeMarco has accomplished.
“It was a lot of guys who had a lot of good individual years, but I think at the end of the day you look at how we did as a team,'' Murray said in summary of his 2014 season. "It was good. It wasn’t great. A lot of guys have learned from it and have this taste for a long time leading into offseason workouts. Try to get better and hope for a different result.”
It's possible DeMarco Murray will be "better'' in 2015. It's highly unlikely he'll be highly-paid to do so in Dallas.
There is a dirty little secret inside the Valley Ranch coaching wing, a secret that may have motivated this staff to 12-4 but that now may motivate some of Jerry Jones' staffers right out of the building. We've got the scoop on Garrett - up-to-the-second on RedBall negotiations -- and on Marinelli, Linehan, Callahan and the rest, inside, for Premium Cowboys Fans.
I am walking down a cinder-block corridor inside Lambeau Field alongside Dez Bryant, who is still in uniform but for his stocking feet. And the Dallas Cowboys receiver is politely, solemnly, mechanically retracing in slow-motion his on-field steps as he counts them down.
Read me and Dez and "Gimme Three Steps'' here, exclusively on CowboysHQ.com.
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