What If DeMarco Murray Is Emmitt Smith?


When the Dallas Cowboys front office ponders the pros and cons of signing their All-Pro running back DeMarco Murray to a long term contract, they need only open their own franchise history book to find a great example of why they should make every reasonable effort to keep Murray in a Dallas uniform.

One of the main arguments against signing Murray this offseason is the perception that his NFL shelf life is nearing its expiration date.  Because the NFL running back graveyard is littered with players like Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson who hit brick walls after epic seasons, many think that DeMarco’s exorbitant amount of 2014 NFL touches (392 carries plus 57 pass receptions) may have placed him at the base of that wall.

What if after the 1993 season the Dallas Cowboys had let Emmitt Smith walk after his fourth year in the NFL?  After all, the workhorse All-Pro running back (sound familiar?) had accumulated an astonishing 1,262 rushing attempts since entering the league in 1990.   If you count his 189 pass receptions over that span, the former University of Florida Gator was able to include 1,451 offensive touches on his resume entering his fifth year in the NFL.

Surely a running back that had endured that much NFL punishment would not last much longer.

If the Cowboys had cut ties with Smith after the 1993 campaign Cowboys Nation would have missed out on eight more 1000+ yard seasons, 111 more touchdowns, and most importantly, the team’s fifth (and last) Lombardi Trophy.

In comparison, DeMarco enters his fourth offseason with a total of 1,104 career touches (934 carries and 170 catches).  That is 158 less than Emmitt’s tally after four seasons.

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What will the Dallas Cowboys franchise lose out on if they decide not to re-sign Murray?

I recognize that a direct comparison of Murray to an iconic Hall of Famer is not very fair.  Nobody is thinking that DeMarco will play at a high level for the next nine seasons in Dallas like Emmitt did.  In fact, the Cowboys brass would be more than happy with less than half of that production.

Here is a comparison that is more than fair.  A look at a key ingredient that helped enable both of these great running backs reach such historic levels.

How was Emmitt able to sustain such a high level of performance for so long in the NFL?  While he may have seemed super-human, Smith was aided and protected by one of the best offensive lines in the history of the game.

During #22’s fifth season in the league (1994), his offensive line consisted of the following:

  • LT – Mark Tuinei – Pro Bowl
  • LG – Nate Newton – Pro Bowl / All Pro
  • C  – Mark Stepnoski – Pro Bowl
  • RG – Derek Kennard
  • RT – Larry Allen – Rookie (Future Hall of Famer)
  • TE – Jay Novacek – Pro Bowl

Heading into his fifth NFL tour of duty, here is the force protecting DeMarco:

  • LT – Tyron Smith – Pro Bowl / All Pro
  • LG – Ronald Leary
  • C  – Travis Frederick – Pro Bowl
  • RG – Zack Martin – Pro Bowl / All Pro
  • RT – Doug Free
  • TE – Jason Witten – Pro Bowl

The dominance that these two offensive lines have exhibited is eerily similar.  When you combine that fact with the evidence that Murray may have more tread left on his tires than Smith had after 4 years, it seems clear that rolling the dice on a four year deal for DeMarco Murray is a safe gamble that the Cowboys have to take.

If they decide not to… will they be saying “What If” this time next year?