Each season fans get used to new names emblazoned on the team’s uniforms – it’s part and parcel in the NFL and in recent years the Dallas Cowboys have shown their willingness to let players walk and welcome others into the fold. With more free agents than a fan can count on two hands – or toes – the 2015 offseason will continue this cycle once again while CowboysNation waits with bated breath.
Obviously one of the biggest questions swirling right now is whether the team will be able to keep both wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. And Cowboys’ owner and general manager Jerry Jones only added to the debate this week with his comments that keeping both players while a possibility doesn’t look reasonable.
"“Is it possible? Yes,” Jones told DallasCowboys.com. “But if you just look at it from the standpoint of dollars and cents, it probably doesn’t look reasonable…At the end of the day you do realize it’s going to be costly to have both those players.”"
Potential possibilities for what will happen – or should happen – have abounded since then and I get – and agree with – most of the arguments behind the position that the team should let Murray move on to other opportunities. I understand the statistics that show that when a running back gets around 400 carries in a season his production sees a major decline the following year or that peak age for this position is 27. Truly, I do.
But it seems to me that all of the speculation is overlooking a key phrase from Jones’s statement: “from the standpoint of dollars and cents.” Because while I think that long term investments in running backs don’t necessarily make the most financial sense, I’m willing to argue that finding a way to keep the band together for one more year does.
Despite the fact that deal was not reached before the season, the Cowboys aren’t going to let Dez go – their belief in him as a player is apparent, as is their desire to keep him in Dallas. But, as much as Dez is one of the faces of this organization, Murray is one the quiet leaders in the locker room and on the field.
His rapport with the offensive line has been established and their loyalty to him appears to be steadfast. Garrett knows this and recognizes this type of value doesn’t necessarily show up on the stats sheets, but that investments in guys of strong character can lead to the type of culture that equals more wins than loses on the ledger.
"“…I think that idea of his mindset, his mentality, his demeanor, his toughness, I think that really, really helped the identity of our football team. In many ways, he established the identity of our football team. The offensive line was a big part of it, to be able to hand the ball to a guy again and again and again and for him to be consistently performing at the level he performed, I thought it was really, really impressive. And again, I think it pervaded our offensive unit, pervaded our whole football team and made us all better.”"
From a pure stats perspective it is entirely conceivable that some combination of Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams, along with someone else potentially picked up in free agency, could match the production of Murray. But would the balance of leadership be off? And does the prospect of Super Bowl contention outweigh what people need in their bank accounts?
That is precisely where the cost-benefit analysis and examination of the ways to work within existing contracts and structure future ones in order to create additional wiggle room to keep the members of the team that led to that culture is going to have to occur.
If it was up to me, I’d look for ways to use the franchise tag on Murray so we can get a one-year deal with him and see how he bounces back after this season’s large workload. While the upfront costs might be higher, you’ll have the vantage point on whether there will be a regression to the mean in terms of his production, as well as more information on how the younger backs are developing.
Jerry didn’t win the Pro Football Writers of America NFL Executive of the Year for being the sole person making decisions for the team. In fact, quite the opposite: he has spent a great deal of time and money recruiting and retaining members of Valley Ranch Brain Trust to help him make the decisions necessary to build the team into exactly what he believes it should be.
You can bet Jerry’s bottom dollar that they will be examining all the ways to and reasons for creating the environment necessary to repeat and improve on the success of the 2014 squad. I believe Murray is an integral part of that – both on the field and off – and should be treated as such.