Cowboys Committee: Running Back Solution?

Over the next couple of months, the Cowboys running back picture will develop into clear focus, impossible to misunderstand. Or will it?

Over the next couple of months, the Cowboys running back picture will develop into clear focus, impossible to misunderstand. Or will it?

As always, everything that Dallas Owner/GM Jerry Jones says makes waves. During a press conference to announce the retention of Head Coach Jason Garrett as well as assistants Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan, PFWA’s Executive of the Year spoke of impending contract negotiations. Dallas is in a rare situation where they have one of the league’s leading receivers and one of the league’s leading runners on expiring rookie deals during the same offseason. As such, and because hardly anyone in the media wants to come off the ridiculous “Cowboys in Cap Hell” narrative, Jones has to speak to whether or not he can sign them both.

Since October, I’ve laid out the numerous ways that Dallas can responsibly get so far below the projected 2015 Salary Cap that there is no restriction on anything the Cowboys want to do. It’s been my mission for the last several years, and now that Dallas has a playoff team, it seems people are finally abandoning the silly meme of Cap Hell. Go take a look at the multiple projections circling the interwebs, they are eerily similar to this roadmap. ( We summarize in our "Cowboys Cap Primer'' here, with ways to carve out $49 million worth of room.) However, with Jerry Jones' recent revelation that it “probably doesn’t look reasonable” to re-sign both players, a lot of lazy media are misguiding fans to the played narrative again. Fact, it is not that hard for Dallas to find the money to pay both. (It's "Not Dez Vs. DeMarco,'' here.) Fact is, though, Dallas would be fools if it did so at "market value.''

Quiet as it's kept, teams that are paying either a top wideout or a top running back gobs of money, haven’t really been successful in recent years. A cursory look at the highest paid players at each position reveals a list of employers who weren’t handing out many playoff bonuses.

RUNNING BACKS  WIDE RECEIVERS
Player2014 Cap Hit (in millions)Team  Player2014 Cap Hit (in millions)Team
Peterson12.3Vikings  Wallace17.3Dolphins
McCoy9.7Eagles  Johnson, A15.6Texans
Charles9.6Chiefs  Johnson, C13Lions*
Foster8.5Texans  Jackson12.4Bucs
Lynch8Seahawks*  Bowe11.5Chiefs
Forte7.9Bears  Garcon9.7Redskins
Gore6.4549ers  Marshall9.4Bears
Williams6Panthers*  Fitzgerald8.6Cardinals*
Spiller5.9Bills  Colston8.3Saints
Stewart4.6Panthers*  Welker7.7Broncos*

Only three of the top 10 running backs, and again, three of the top 10 wideouts made the playoffs in 2014. Two of those runners were on the same team, the Carolina Panthers. In 2013, only five teams that appeared on either list made the playoffs as well . Very rarely does a team show up on both lists. When they do, not a single one was a participant in the 12-team playoff field in 2014, and only one in 2013. the World Champion Seahawks who were paying a quarterback on a rookie, third-round salary.

RUNNING BACKS  WIDE RECEIVERS
Player2013 Cap Hit (millions)Team  Player2013 Cap Hit (millions)Team
Peterson13.9Vikings  Johnson, A10.7Texans
Johnson, Ch12Titans  Fitzgerald10.3Cardinals
McFadden9.7Raiders  Rice9.7Seahawks *
Lynch8.5Seahawks *  Marshall9.3Bears
Foster8.3Texans  White9.1Falcons
Forte7.3Bears  Jackson, D9Eagles *
Jones-Drew6.8Jaguars  Holmes9Jets
Gore6.549ers *  Johnson, C8.8Lions
Rice5.8Ravens  Williams8.3Bucs
Williams5Panthers *  Garcon8.2Redskins

This isn’t to say that teams should shy away from having upper-tier talent. Far from it. The point is that salary-cap allocation means that there is a limited amount of resources to spend on certain things. Sinking a large percentage of your spendable money to your skill positions means that some other part of your team will not be paid as well. This puts the onus on a team to be ultra-successful at finding draft gems in the mid to later rounds that not only turn into quality players, but do so prior to their rookie contracts expiring. Paying big money to multiple skill positions makes things that much tighter across the rest of the roster.

There’s no doubt that Dallas will have Dez Bryant in the fold for 2015; his command of double-teams is a main ingredient that fuels how opposing defenses have to play the Cowboys. With the amount of time it (normally) takes a drafted receiver to reach the same level of respect, it would be foolish for Dallas to think it could continue to operate business as usual with a replacement. But Murray? As CowboysHQ has repeatedly stated, he is most likely gone, lest he agree to a contract similar to what Dallas offered before his league-leading rushing campaign of 2014. That would be four years, $16 million, or an average salary OUTSIDE of the Top 10 backs. Murray would have to be offering a serious hometown discount to play for that amount, and it’s a stretch of the imagination. (Our in-depth breakdown of the Cowboys and DeMarco and A Future Outside Of Dallas is here.)

So what will Dallas do? If one does not want to pay a Top 10 Running Back, then what are the options?

The best option might just be to approach the 2015 season with the plans to utilize a committee approach, similar to one that has gotten the New England Patriots back to another Super Bowl.

The concept of a "running back committee'' is not new. In fact, Dallas employed one of sorts during their last playoff run of 2009. Then, Marion Barber received most of the carries, but second-year backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice also got their share of carries. Look at the carry distribution from that season to the Cowboys of 2014.

2009 2014
RunnerTouchesTotal YdsTHs RunnerTouchesTotal YdsTHs
Barber24011537 Murray449226113
Jones1358043 Randle553663
Choice794813 Dunbar473160
Total454243813 Total551294316

At first glance, it might appear that the 2014 was more productive. It was, from a purely volume set of eyes. Looking closer at the efficiency though shows just how similar the production was. Dallas actually tallied more yards per touch in 2009 than in 2014 when it had the PFWA Offensive Player of the Year.

20092014
Yards Per Touch5.375.34
Touches Per Touchdown34.934.4

The Touch-per-Touchdown ratio is slightly in favor of 2014. This isn’t to discount what a bell-cow runner means for a team. There is definitely something to be said for being able to still bludgeon a team with a run game that they are expecting and scheming to stop. However, circle back around to the earlier point on Dez. If a team is going to pick a poison, they are going to double the “uncoverable” wideout every time. Meaning as long as Dez is in town, there should be lanes to run through.

So does Dallas really need to foot the bill on an expensive back in 2015? It doesn’t appear to be the case. Dallas could perhaps follow in its own footsteps, or those of Super Bowl participant New England in attacking the run game. Throughout the 2014 season, and several seasons in the past, New England has eschewed the bell-cow back in favor of mixing and matching their backs based on game situations. They entered the season with Stevan Ridley penciled in as a starter and with Shane Vareen as the passing-game running back. Brandon Bolden was initially the No. 3 back. The club had Jonas Gray, a non-dsecript power back on his third team in three years, and rookie James White, a fourth-round pick, waiting in the wings. After Ridley was lost for the year in Week 6, the club soonafter made a move to bring back in LeGarrette Blount after he was released by Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh was seen to be a competent threat to New England until bell-cow LeVeon Bell was hurt in Week 17 and they had no viable back to replace him against Baltimore in the Wild-Card round.

Here’s a look at the snap distribution of New England for 2014.

PatriotsSnaps Per Week
Runner1234567891011121314151617DPCC
Ridley223743125024             
Vareen612030293538483363 206230353143284130
Bolden9107 2141    271 816121
Gray      122923 57 231916  5
Blount           17203216 221542
White   14   13        4  
Total9267805587766175860778159716667706878

Out of 18, there were 13 weeks where two Patriots backs had at least 19 snaps. There were six different weeks where at least three backs tallied 9 snaps or more. Four different ball carriers led the team in snaps in at least one game. There were 11 games where there were over 70 running back snaps. New England basically mixed and matched their personnel based on the perceived weakness of the opponent. Tough run defense? Start the back with the best pass-catching ability. Weak up the middle? Start the power back. That was no better exemplified by how the team approached Indianapolis in the two games this season. Jonas Gray had never accrued more than 29 snaps in a game in his entire career. He logged 57 snaps and ran for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns against Indy in Week 11. He only logged 45 more snaps over the rest of the season. In the rematch against Indy? The Pats leaned on Blount’s power game this time, and he responded with 148 yards and three touchdowns of his own.

Now look at Dallas’ snap distribution for 2014.

CowboysSnaps Per Week
Runner1234567891011121314151617WCDP
Murray64584451695345434437 5249606031404446
Randle 7273107818  61322922
Dunbar417642147121910 2611491383
Total6882526274775963645505461627762625451

Dallas unapologetically rode the back of Murray. Only twice for the entire season did another halfback get more than 19 snaps in a game. There were only three weeks when at least three backs tallied 9 snaps or more. It would be nice to include Tyler Clutts in these numbers, but that would be fools gold. Clutts got zero carries and two passing targets for the season. In fact, his presence works the opposite direction. Teams know that when he is in the game, he is going to be lead blocking for Murray, as he was on 142 of his 163 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas basically functions on offense with an ineligible player at an eligible position. Not that this is a complaint about how Dallas’ offense worked in 2014; it worked beautifully. That was under the salary structure of a rookie-year runner. Things will be different in 2015.

There is plenty to be said about a running back being able to establish a rhythm, for himself as well as for the line that is blocking for him. With the offensive line that Dallas sports, it would be foolish to change from being a run-oriented team in 2015. Still, that doesn’t mean that the same rhythm has to be achieved in every game.

Dallas couldn’t find a place on their roster for Ryan Williams for 2014, however 2015 should be different. The Cowboys stashed Williams on the practice squad for the entire year. Despite several teams inquiring as to bringing him to their active rosters, Williams bet on himself to make an impact with the team he grew up rooting for. In the 2014 preseason, Williams showed a great ability to catch the ball and make moves in the open field. In fact, he led the entire team in receptions for the preseason. The Cowboys were seeing how they could use him best in a live situation. Fish broke the story of Williams' re-upping here last week, and made a newsy issue of it -- even defended the way he wrote the story by insisting it wasn't "just a regular two-year Futures contract.'' And indeed, now we know, to ensure Williams stuck around, they gave him the highest guaranteed salary of any player that received a “Futures” contract last week.

Joseph Randle was clearly a much improved runner in 2014 after a mediocre rookie campaign. He had several big runs on the season and looked to be a much quicker and decisive runner than Murray’s patient yet effective style. The burst Randle had was something that not many people expected coming out of Oklahoma State, but he also showed that his speed could breakaway from defenders. For all the greatness Murray has displayed in Dallas, home run threat was never on his resume.

Would it be out of the question for Dallas to enter 2015 thinking that Randle and Williams would be an excellent version of what New England wanted to have with Ridley and Vereen? Is Dallas’ duo lacking in pedigree? It doesn’t appear to be. What Dallas is missing from the equation is the power back. What New England transitioned from in Brandon Bolden to Jonas Gray to LeGarrette Blount. Lance Dunbar is certainly not that, and if Williams is going to take the pass catcher role there might not be a place for Dunbar in 2015. It’s not as if the dynamic role envisioned for him in the last offseason ever came to fruition. Is he worth the one huge play he generated (the 80 yard score that was called back for holding) amongst several nice gains? Dallas should do their best to find such a running back in free agency, once it starts March 10th.

That just leaves the “future replacement” guy to round out the committee. The same way Dallas drafted Joseph Randle to take the place of Murray two years ago, is the same way New England picked up James White to replace Ridley and Vareen, who are both free agents in 2015. If you’re going to commit to the rotation, you have to plan ahead. It appears Dallas has already started preparing for this case with Randle and Williams. Fortunately, this is playing out in one of the deepest running back drafts in recent history. 2013 was a very deep draft that allowed them to steal Randle in the fifth round. The only difference is the the 2015 draft appears to have several players worth considering as late first round picks. Remember, Eddie Lacy and LeVeon Bell were second-rounders that season. Yes, this is the kind of depth that Dallas could be working with.

There will always be the possibility that Dallas signs Murray to a long-term deal. Also, should Adrian Peterson be let go by Minnesota (not as forgone a conclusion as many believe), it’s well-chronicled that he and Dallas have mutual interest. The Cowboys could also look at the top-tier backs available in the draft and go to the well early. However if they don’t, a running back committee behind the best run-blocking line in the NFL could go a long way towards another magical season and hopefully prolonged success over several years as they reap the benefits of a truly low-cost running solution.


CowboysHQ Top Stories

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RUNNING BACKS  WIDE RECEIVERS
Player2014 Cap Hit (in millions)Team  Player2014 Cap Hit (in millions)Team
Peterson12.3Vikings  Wallace17.3Dolphins
McCoy9.7Eagles  Johnson, A15.6Texans
Charles9.6Chiefs  Johnson, C13Lions*
Foster8.5Texans  Jackson12.4Bucs
Lynch8Seahawks*  Bowe11.5Chiefs
Forte7.9Bears  Garcon9.7Redskins
Gore6.4549ers  Marshall9.4Bears
Williams6Panthers*  Fitzgerald8.6Cardinals*
Spiller5.9Bills  Colston8.3Saints
Stewart4.6Panthers*  Welker7.7Broncos*

\r\n\r\nOnly three of the top 10 running backs, and again, three of the top 10 wideouts made the playoffs in 2014. Two of those runners were on the same team, the Carolina Panthers. In 2013, only five teams that appeared on either list made the playoffs as well . Very rarely does a team show up on both lists. When they do, not a single one was a participant in the 12-team playoff field in 2014, and only one in 2013. the World Champion Seahawks who were paying a quarterback on a rookie, third-round salary.

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RUNNING BACKS  WIDE RECEIVERS
Player2013 Cap Hit (millions)Team  Player2013 Cap Hit (millions)Team
Peterson13.9Vikings  Johnson, A10.7Texans
Johnson, Ch12Titans  Fitzgerald10.3Cardinals
McFadden9.7Raiders  Rice9.7Seahawks *
Lynch8.5Seahawks *  Marshall9.3Bears
Foster8.3Texans  White9.1Falcons
Forte7.3Bears  Jackson, D9Eagles *
Jones-Drew6.8Jaguars  Holmes9Jets
Gore6.549ers *  Johnson, C8.8Lions
Rice5.8Ravens  Williams8.3Bucs
Williams5Panthers *  Garcon8.2Redskins

\r\n\r\nThis isn’t to say that teams should shy away from having upper-tier talent. Far from it. The point is that salary-cap allocation means that there is a limited amount of resources to spend on certain things. Sinking a large percentage of your spendable money to your skill positions means that some other part of your team will not be paid as well. This puts the onus on a team to be ultra-successful at finding draft gems in the mid to later rounds that not only turn into quality players, but do so prior to their rookie contracts expiring. Paying big money to multiple skill positions makes things that much tighter across the rest of the roster.

\r\nThere’s no doubt that Dallas will have Dez Bryant in the fold for 2015; his command of double-teams is a main ingredient that fuels how opposing defenses have to play the Cowboys. With the amount of time it (normally) takes a drafted receiver to reach the same level of respect, it would be foolish for Dallas to think it could continue to operate business as usual with a replacement. But Murray? As CowboysHQ has repeatedly stated, he is most likely gone, lest he agree to a contract similar to what Dallas offered before his league-leading rushing campaign of 2014. That would be four years, $16 million, or an average salary OUTSIDE of the Top 10 backs. Murray would have to be offering a serious hometown discount to play for that amount, and it’s a stretch of the imagination. (Our in-depth breakdown of the Cowboys and DeMarco and A Future Outside Of Dallas is here.)

\r\nSo what will Dallas do? If one does not want to pay a Top 10 Running Back, then what are the options?

\r\nThe best option might just be to approach the 2015 season with the plans to utilize a committee approach, similar to one that has gotten the New England Patriots back to another Super Bowl.

\r\nThe concept of a \"running back committee'' is not new. In fact, Dallas employed one of sorts during their last playoff run of 2009. Then, Marion Barber received most of the carries, but second-year backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice also got their share of carries. Look at the carry distribution from that season to the Cowboys of 2014.

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\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n
2009 2014
RunnerTouchesTotal YdsTHs RunnerTouchesTotal YdsTHs
Barber24011537 Murray449226113
Jones1358043 Randle553663
Choice794813 Dunbar473160
Total454243813 Total551294316

\r\n\r\nAt first glance, it might appear that the 2014 was more productive. It was, from a purely volume set of eyes. Looking closer at the efficiency though shows just how similar the production was. Dallas actually tallied more yards per touch in 2009 than in 2014 when it had the PFWA Offensive Player of the Year.

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\r\n\r\n \r\n \r\n
20092014
Yards Per Touch5.375.34
Touches Per Touchdown34.934.4

\r\n\r\nThe Touch-per-Touchdown ratio is slightly in favor of 2014. This isn’t to discount what a bell-cow runner means for a team. There is definitely something to be said for being able to still bludgeon a team with a run game that they are expecting and scheming to stop. However, circle back around to the earlier point on Dez. If a team is going to pick a poison, they are going to double the “uncoverable” wideout every time. Meaning as long as Dez is in town, there should be lanes to run through.

\r\nSo does Dallas really need to foot the bill on an expensive back in 2015? It doesn’t appear to be the case. Dallas could perhaps follow in its own footsteps, or those of Super Bowl participant New England in attacking the run game. Throughout the 2014 season, and several seasons in the past, New England has eschewed the bell-cow back in favor of mixing and matching their backs based on game situations. They entered the season with Stevan Ridley penciled in as a starter and with Shane Vareen as the passing-game running back. Brandon Bolden was initially the No. 3 back. The club had Jonas Gray, a non-dsecript power back on his third team in three years, and rookie James White, a fourth-round pick, waiting in the wings. After Ridley was lost for the year in Week 6, the club soonafter made a move to bring back in LeGarrette Blount after he was released by Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh was seen to be a competent threat to New England until bell-cow LeVeon Bell was hurt in Week 17 and they had no viable back to replace him against Baltimore in the Wild-Card round.

\r\nHere’s a look at the snap distribution of New England for 2014.

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\r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n
PatriotsSnaps Per Week
Runner1234567891011121314151617DPCC
Ridley223743125024             
Vareen612030293538483363 206230353143284130
Bolden9107 2141    271 816121
Gray      122923 57 231916  5
Blount           17203216 221542
White   14   13        4  
Total9267805587766175860778159716667706878

\r\n\r\nOut of 18, there were 13 weeks where two Patriots backs had at least 19 snaps. There were six different weeks where at least three backs tallied 9 snaps or more. Four different ball carriers led the team in snaps in at least one game. There were 11 games where there were over 70 running back snaps. New England basically mixed and matched their personnel based on the perceived weakness of the opponent. Tough run defense? Start the back with the best pass-catching ability. Weak up the middle? Start the power back. That was no better exemplified by how the team approached Indianapolis in the two games this season. Jonas Gray had never accrued more than 29 snaps in a game in his entire career. He logged 57 snaps and ran for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns against Indy in Week 11. He only logged 45 more snaps over the rest of the season. In the rematch against Indy? The Pats leaned on Blount’s power game this time, and he responded with 148 yards and three touchdowns of his own.

\r\nNow look at Dallas’ snap distribution for 2014.

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\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n
CowboysSnaps Per Week
Runner1234567891011121314151617WCDP
Murray64584451695345434437 5249606031404446
Randle 7273107818  61322922
Dunbar417642147121910 2611491383
Total6882526274775963645505461627762625451

\r\n\r\nDallas unapologetically rode the back of Murray. Only twice for the entire season did another halfback get more than 19 snaps in a game. There were only three weeks when at least three backs tallied 9 snaps or more. It would be nice to include Tyler Clutts in these numbers, but that would be fools gold. Clutts got zero carries and two passing targets for the season. In fact, his presence works the opposite direction. Teams know that when he is in the game, he is going to be lead blocking for Murray, as he was on 142 of his 163 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas basically functions on offense with an ineligible player at an eligible position. Not that this is a complaint about how Dallas’ offense worked in 2014; it worked beautifully. That was under the salary structure of a rookie-year runner. Things will be different in 2015.

\r\nThere is plenty to be said about a running back being able to establish a rhythm, for himself as well as for the line that is blocking for him. With the offensive line that Dallas sports, it would be foolish to change from being a run-oriented team in 2015. Still, that doesn’t mean that the same rhythm has to be achieved in every game.

\r\nDallas couldn’t find a place on their roster for Ryan Williams for 2014, however 2015 should be different. The Cowboys stashed Williams on the practice squad for the entire year. Despite several teams inquiring as to bringing him to their active rosters, Williams bet on himself to make an impact with the team he grew up rooting for. In the 2014 preseason, Williams showed a great ability to catch the ball and make moves in the open field. In fact, he led the entire team in receptions for the preseason. The Cowboys were seeing how they could use him best in a live situation. Fish broke the story of Williams' re-upping here last week, and made a newsy issue of it -- even defended the way he wrote the story by insisting it wasn't \"just a regular two-year Futures contract.'' And indeed, now we know, to ensure Williams stuck around, they gave him the highest guaranteed salary of any player that received a “Futures” contract last week.

Thus far, largest guarantees on 2015 reserve/future contracts: Cowboys RB Ryan Williams ($240k) and 49ers DL Lawrence Okoye ($68,405).

— Brian McIntyre (@brian_mcintyre) January 16, 2015
\r\n

\r\nJoseph Randle was clearly a much improved runner in 2014 after a mediocre rookie campaign. He had several big runs on the season and looked to be a much quicker and decisive runner than Murray’s patient yet effective style. The burst Randle had was something that not many people expected coming out of Oklahoma State, but he also showed that his speed could breakaway from defenders. For all the greatness Murray has displayed in Dallas, home run threat was never on his resume.

\r\nWould it be out of the question for Dallas to enter 2015 thinking that Randle and Williams would be an excellent version of what New England wanted to have with Ridley and Vereen? Is Dallas’ duo lacking in pedigree? It doesn’t appear to be. What Dallas is missing from the equation is the power back. What New England transitioned from in Brandon Bolden to Jonas Gray to LeGarrette Blount. Lance Dunbar is certainly not that, and if Williams is going to take the pass catcher role there might not be a place for Dunbar in 2015. It’s not as if the dynamic role envisioned for him in the last offseason ever came to fruition. Is he worth the one huge play he generated (the 80 yard score that was called back for holding) amongst several nice gains? Dallas should do their best to find such a running back in free agency, once it starts March 10th.

\r\nThat just leaves the “future replacement” guy to round out the committee. The same way Dallas drafted Joseph Randle to take the place of Murray two years ago, is the same way New England picked up James White to replace Ridley and Vareen, who are both free agents in 2015. If you’re going to commit to the rotation, you have to plan ahead. It appears Dallas has already started preparing for this case with Randle and Williams. Fortunately, this is playing out in one of the deepest running back drafts in recent history. 2013 was a very deep draft that allowed them to steal Randle in the fifth round. The only difference is the the 2015 draft appears to have several players worth considering as late first round picks. Remember, Eddie Lacy and LeVeon Bell were second-rounders that season. Yes, this is the kind of depth that Dallas could be working with.

\r\nThere will always be the possibility that Dallas signs Murray to a long-term deal. Also, should Adrian Peterson be let go by Minnesota (not as forgone a conclusion as many believe), it’s well-chronicled that he and Dallas have mutual interest. The Cowboys could also look at the top-tier backs available in the draft and go to the well early. However if they don’t, a running back committee behind the best run-blocking line in the NFL could go a long way towards another magical season and hopefully prolonged success over several years as they reap the benefits of a truly low-cost running solution.

\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"

Over the next couple of months, the Cowboys running back picture will develop into clear focus, impossible to misunderstand. Or will it?

As always, everything that Dallas Owner/GM Jerry Jones says makes waves. During a press conference to announce the retention of Head Coach Jason Garrett as well as assistants Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan, PFWA’s Executive of the Year spoke of impending contract negotiations. Dallas is in a rare situation where they have one of the league’s leading receivers and one of the league’s leading runners on expiring rookie deals during the same offseason. As such, and because hardly anyone in the media wants to come off the ridiculous “Cowboys in Cap Hell” narrative, Jones has to speak to whether or not he can sign them both.

Since October, I’ve laid out the numerous ways that Dallas can responsibly get so far below the projected 2015 Salary Cap that there is no restriction on anything the Cowboys want to do. It’s been my mission for the last several years, and now that Dallas has a playoff team, it seems people are finally abandoning the silly meme of Cap Hell. Go take a look at the multiple projections circling the interwebs, they are eerily similar to this roadmap. ( We summarize in our \"Cowboys Cap Primer'' here, with ways to carve out $49 million worth of room.) However, with Jerry Jones' recent revelation that it “probably doesn’t look reasonable” to re-sign both players, a lot of lazy media are misguiding fans to the played narrative again. Fact, it is not that hard for Dallas to find the money to pay both. (It's \"Not Dez Vs. DeMarco,'' here.) Fact is, though, Dallas would be fools if it did so at \"market value.''

Quiet as it's kept, teams that are paying either a top wideout or a top running back gobs of money, haven’t really been successful in recent years. A cursory look at the highest paid players at each position reveals a list of employers who weren’t handing out many playoff bonuses.

Only three of the top 10 running backs, and again, three of the top 10 wideouts made the playoffs in 2014. Two of those runners were on the same team, the Carolina Panthers. In 2013, only five teams that appeared on either list made the playoffs as well . Very rarely does a team show up on both lists. When they do, not a single one was a participant in the 12-team playoff field in 2014, and only one in 2013. the World Champion Seahawks who were paying a quarterback on a rookie, third-round salary.

This isn’t to say that teams should shy away from having upper-tier talent. Far from it. The point is that salary-cap allocation means that there is a limited amount of resources to spend on certain things. Sinking a large percentage of your spendable money to your skill positions means that some other part of your team will not be paid as well. This puts the onus on a team to be ultra-successful at finding draft gems in the mid to later rounds that not only turn into quality players, but do so prior to their rookie contracts expiring. Paying big money to multiple skill positions makes things that much tighter across the rest of the roster.

There’s no doubt that Dallas will have Dez Bryant in the fold for 2015; his command of double-teams is a main ingredient that fuels how opposing defenses have to play the Cowboys. With the amount of time it (normally) takes a drafted receiver to reach the same level of respect, it would be foolish for Dallas to think it could continue to operate business as usual with a replacement. But Murray? As CowboysHQ has repeatedly stated, he is most likely gone, lest he agree to a contract similar to what Dallas offered before his league-leading rushing campaign of 2014. That would be four years, $16 million, or an average salary OUTSIDE of the Top 10 backs. Murray would have to be offering a serious hometown discount to play for that amount, and it’s a stretch of the imagination. (Our in-depth breakdown of the Cowboys and DeMarco and A Future Outside Of Dallas is here.)

So what will Dallas do? If one does not want to pay a Top 10 Running Back, then what are the options?

The best option might just be to approach the 2015 season with the plans to utilize a committee approach, similar to one that has gotten the New England Patriots back to another Super Bowl.

The concept of a \"running back committee'' is not new. In fact, Dallas employed one of sorts during their last playoff run of 2009. Then, Marion Barber received most of the carries, but second-year backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice also got their share of carries. Look at the carry distribution from that season to the Cowboys of 2014.

At first glance, it might appear that the 2014 was more productive. It was, from a purely volume set of eyes. Looking closer at the efficiency though shows just how similar the production was. Dallas actually tallied more yards per touch in 2009 than in 2014 when it had the PFWA Offensive Player of the Year.

The Touch-per-Touchdown ratio is slightly in favor of 2014. This isn’t to discount what a bell-cow runner means for a team. There is definitely something to be said for being able to still bludgeon a team with a run game that they are expecting and scheming to stop. However, circle back around to the earlier point on Dez. If a team is going to pick a poison, they are going to double the “uncoverable” wideout every time. Meaning as long as Dez is in town, there should be lanes to run through.

So does Dallas really need to foot the bill on an expensive back in 2015? It doesn’t appear to be the case. Dallas could perhaps follow in its own footsteps, or those of Super Bowl participant New England in attacking the run game. Throughout the 2014 season, and several seasons in the past, New England has eschewed the bell-cow back in favor of mixing and matching their backs based on game situations. They entered the season with Stevan Ridley penciled in as a starter and with Shane Vareen as the passing-game running back. Brandon Bolden was initially the No. 3 back. The club had Jonas Gray, a non-dsecript power back on his third team in three years, and rookie James White, a fourth-round pick, waiting in the wings. After Ridley was lost for the year in Week 6, the club soonafter made a move to bring back in LeGarrette Blount after he was released by Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh was seen to be a competent threat to New England until bell-cow LeVeon Bell was hurt in Week 17 and they had no viable back to replace him against Baltimore in the Wild-Card round.

Here’s a look at the snap distribution of New England for 2014.

Out of 18, there were 13 weeks where two Patriots backs had at least 19 snaps. There were six different weeks where at least three backs tallied 9 snaps or more. Four different ball carriers led the team in snaps in at least one game. There were 11 games where there were over 70 running back snaps. New England basically mixed and matched their personnel based on the perceived weakness of the opponent. Tough run defense? Start the back with the best pass-catching ability. Weak up the middle? Start the power back. That was no better exemplified by how the team approached Indianapolis in the two games this season. Jonas Gray had never accrued more than 29 snaps in a game in his entire career. He logged 57 snaps and ran for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns against Indy in Week 11. He only logged 45 more snaps over the rest of the season. In the rematch against Indy? The Pats leaned on Blount’s power game this time, and he responded with 148 yards and three touchdowns of his own.

Now look at Dallas’ snap distribution for 2014.

Dallas unapologetically rode the back of Murray. Only twice for the entire season did another halfback get more than 19 snaps in a game. There were only three weeks when at least three backs tallied 9 snaps or more. It would be nice to include Tyler Clutts in these numbers, but that would be fools gold. Clutts got zero carries and two passing targets for the season. In fact, his presence works the opposite direction. Teams know that when he is in the game, he is going to be lead blocking for Murray, as he was on 142 of his 163 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas basically functions on offense with an ineligible player at an eligible position. Not that this is a complaint about how Dallas’ offense worked in 2014; it worked beautifully. That was under the salary structure of a rookie-year runner. Things will be different in 2015.

There is plenty to be said about a running back being able to establish a rhythm, for himself as well as for the line that is blocking for him. With the offensive line that Dallas sports, it would be foolish to change from being a run-oriented team in 2015. Still, that doesn’t mean that the same rhythm has to be achieved in every game.

Dallas couldn’t find a place on their roster for Ryan Williams for 2014, however 2015 should be different. The Cowboys stashed Williams on the practice squad for the entire year. Despite several teams inquiring as to bringing him to their active rosters, Williams bet on himself to make an impact with the team he grew up rooting for. In the 2014 preseason, Williams showed a great ability to catch the ball and make moves in the open field. In fact, he led the entire team in receptions for the preseason. The Cowboys were seeing how they could use him best in a live situation. Fish broke the story of Williams' re-upping here last week, and made a newsy issue of it -- even defended the way he wrote the story by insisting it wasn't \"just a regular two-year Futures contract.'' And indeed, now we know, to ensure Williams stuck around, they gave him the highest guaranteed salary of any player that received a “Futures” contract last week.

Joseph Randle was clearly a much improved runner in 2014 after a mediocre rookie campaign. He had several big runs on the season and looked to be a much quicker and decisive runner than Murray’s patient yet effective style. The burst Randle had was something that not many people expected coming out of Oklahoma State, but he also showed that his speed could breakaway from defenders. For all the greatness Murray has displayed in Dallas, home run threat was never on his resume.

Would it be out of the question for Dallas to enter 2015 thinking that Randle and Williams would be an excellent version of what New England wanted to have with Ridley and Vereen? Is Dallas’ duo lacking in pedigree? It doesn’t appear to be. What Dallas is missing from the equation is the power back. What New England transitioned from in Brandon Bolden to Jonas Gray to LeGarrette Blount. Lance Dunbar is certainly not that, and if Williams is going to take the pass catcher role there might not be a place for Dunbar in 2015. It’s not as if the dynamic role envisioned for him in the last offseason ever came to fruition. Is he worth the one huge play he generated (the 80 yard score that was called back for holding) amongst several nice gains? Dallas should do their best to find such a running back in free agency, once it starts March 10th.

That just leaves the “future replacement” guy to round out the committee. The same way Dallas drafted Joseph Randle to take the place of Murray two years ago, is the same way New England picked up James White to replace Ridley and Vareen, who are both free agents in 2015. If you’re going to commit to the rotation, you have to plan ahead. It appears Dallas has already started preparing for this case with Randle and Williams. Fortunately, this is playing out in one of the deepest running back drafts in recent history. 2013 was a very deep draft that allowed them to steal Randle in the fifth round. The only difference is the the 2015 draft appears to have several players worth considering as late first round picks. Remember, Eddie Lacy and LeVeon Bell were second-rounders that season. Yes, this is the kind of depth that Dallas could be working with.

There will always be the possibility that Dallas signs Murray to a long-term deal. Also, should Adrian Peterson be let go by Minnesota (not as forgone a conclusion as many believe), it’s well-chronicled that he and Dallas have mutual interest. The Cowboys could also look at the top-tier backs available in the draft and go to the well early. However if they don’t, a running back committee behind the best run-blocking line in the NFL could go a long way towards another magical season and hopefully prolonged success over several years as they reap the benefits of a truly low-cost running solution.

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