The Dallas Cowboys won the game of Texas Hold’em with DeMarco Murray.
They didn’t blink. They stuck to their hard line.
Sure, they lost the NFL’s leading rusher in the process, as Murray chose the greener pastures of Philadelphia, accepting the Eagles’ five-year, $42 million contract.
But the Cowboys stood on principle and won the battle for their financial bottom line. What that will mean on the field next season remains to be seen.
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But what it means for the Cowboys more than ever is that this is Stephen Jones’ team.
Jerry Jones still carries the title of owner/general manager. He remains the face of the franchise. But it’s his son, Stephen, the vice president of player personnel, who is making the final decisions.
This changing of the guard became increasingly evident last season when it was Stephen who attended every practice instead of the elder Jones, which was a change.
Just think about it. If Jerry Jones were in charge, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray would have been locked up with big deals long ago. Heck, Johnny Manziel would have been the team’s top pick a year ago.
But it was Stephen, along with scouting czar Will McClay and coach Jason Garrett, who talked Jerry off the proverbial Manziel ledge during the 2014 NFL Draft.
If truth be told, Stephen’s influence began taking hold a few months earlier when the Cowboys decided to part ways with defensive end DeMarcus Ware and let defensive tackle Jason Hatcher walk in free agency.
The Ware move was tough for Jerry Jones, who loathes letting future Hall of Famers leave. But Stephen was all about making the team fiscally solvent and financially accountable.
The days of Miles Austin and Marion Barber getting paid for one big year of service are long gone. And apparently, so too, is the idea of giving even the deserving players whatever they want, no matter the cap repercussions.
Bryant’s situation — he was given the franchise tag as the team tries to work out a long-term deal — falls under the latter. Murray falls under the former.
The Cowboys didn’t come lightly to the decision to hardball Murray. They did their homework. They studied the analytics. They charted his every touch from the day he came into the league as a third-round pick in 2011 and compared it to other top backs. They took into account the declining production of backs as they age.
And while they wanted Murray to return, they came up with a number they wouldn’t come off of when it came to his worth.
The number would have been “fungible” in the mind of the elder Jones, who as late as last month said he would exceed his budget to keep Murray. Too bad for Murray that Stephen is the new gatekeeper at Valley Ranch.
Jerry Jones likes to tell the story of Stephen throwing him against the wall in 1995 when he decided to give Deion Sanders a then-record $35 million contract, including a $12.9 million signing bonus.
Of course, we all know Jerry dusted himself off and signed Sanders anyway.
Stephen doesn’t have to use force to keep his dad in check anymore. It’s Stephen who is writing the checks.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.