Running backs are tricky. They tend to burn out faster than other players simply because they take a lot of hits. They’re also not that hard to replace—the Dallas Cowboys have cycled through several adequate feature backs over the past seasons. Most recently they landed on DeMarco Murray, drafting him in the third round out of Oklahoma in 2011.
Murray has been the kind of good-but-not-great player that so frustrates those who run a football team. They’re trying to build an offense around the run, but how long will that runner be around?
In 2013, Murray played in the most games and racked up the most yards of his young career. He was a valuable weapon in the passing game, and most agree that he was underutilized, especially in contests like the shocking loss to Green Bay.
New play-caller Scott Linehan can do a lot of things for this offense, but one thing he probably won’t do is give Murray 25 carries per game. Even if he stays healthy, another good-but-not-great season might be in the works.
So when his contract expires at the end of the year, should the Cowboys extend him?
Murray is only 25. It stands to reason that, even if he does burn out eventually, he could play at a high level for another five years. Not many Dallas fans would be happy to see a rejuvenated Murray standing on the opposing sideline, racking up 200 yards.
But he’s likely going to want more than 2014’s $750,000 to return to Dallas. Some team with more cap space might be willing to give him a bigger pay raise than the Cowboys can afford.
Where would that leave the ‘Boys? Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle are good No. 2 backs, but I don’t know that they’ll ever be more than that. If the Cowboys let Murray walk, then the 2015 draft will become crucial. But no need to be hasty—even a second or third-round back might be able to shoulder the load. Murray was a third-round back himself.
For some perspective, consider this year’s class of running backs, a group Dallas is unlikely to touch. Tre Mason and Andre Williams were Heisman Trophy finalists, yet neither is projected to go before the third round. Lache Seastrunk, Carlos Hyde, Charles Sims, Bishop Sankey, Marion Grice and De’Anthony Thomas are all mid-to-late-round backs who can be had by whatever team most needs them. All of them could be solid NFL contributors, at least for a season or two.
So no, if Murray doesn’t put up another 1,000 yards or have his so-called “breakout season,” I don’t think the Cowboys should extend him. Jerry Jones has a history of throwing money at players he likes, but I don’t know that he can afford that this year.
Looking ahead, the 2015 running backs draft class will likely include Florida State’s Karlos Williams, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford. Assuming the Dallas defense has a better season, the Cowboys might be able to draft a back as early as Round 2.
So keep an eye on Murray this season—either he’ll be putting up stratospheric numbers, or he might not be a Cowboy when 2015 rolls around.