DeMarco Murray would be a stranger in the Dallas Cowboys’ running backs room, where he spent four seasons. Fullback Tyler Clutts stands as the only familiar face.
“I had not noticed that,” Murray said.
Lance Dunbar went on injured reserve last month after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and the Cowboys released Joseph Randle last week.
Thus, the Cowboys’ running back-by-committee plan to replace Murray has gone awry.
The four tailbacks on the team’s roster weren’t at Valley Ranch last season, and three of them — Christine Michael, Rod Smith and Trey Williams — were acquired since the season started.
The Cowboys, with DeMarco Murray, rushed for 1,118 yards in the first seven games last season. This season they have 895 without him.
“Well, things don’t always go as planned,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “You have injuries. You have adversity. The big thing is we’re really excited about the guys who have stepped up in their opportunities.”
The Cowboys miss Murray much more than they will admit, and Murray misses the Cowboys much more than he will admit. What they do agree on is: Last year was special, but they’ve both moved on.
Murray set the team single-season record and led the league with 1,845 yards in leading the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and the NFC East title. He won the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
The Eagles signed Murray to a five-year, $42 million deal, including $21 million guaranteed. The Cowboys upped their final offer to four years and $24 million with $12 million guaranteed, fearing tying up more years and more money in a 27-year-old running back with 497 touches last season.
I think you miss him as a leader, and you miss him as a ballplayer. I think we all miss him as a brother and as a friend.
Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown about Murray.
“That ship sailed,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We don’t look back to the past. We’d make that same decision again. We have to develop a structure of a football team with the salary cap, and it just wasn’t one that we felt was in our best interest to have that type of money tied up. Would we like to pay them all? Of course we would. But you can’t pay a top receiver, a top quarterback, a top pass rusher, a top left tackle and other players that we want to pay. You’ve got to make hard decisions, and unfortunately that was a tough one for us. We’ve moved on from that.”
Murray shrugged off Jones’ comment.
“That’s his team; that’s their team,” Murray said. “I think they’ve done a good job. I don’t have any regrets. There’s no regrets on their part. There’s none on my part. I respect those guys. Great organization. Lot of time there.”
Still, it’s hard to argue the Cowboys are better off without Murray, even considering they have played five games without Tony Romo and five without Dez Bryant. (Bryant returned from a fractured right foot last week, and Romo is eligible to return from a fractured left collarbone on Nov. 22 against the Dolphins.)
The Cowboys, who rushed for 1,118 yards in the first seven games last season, have run for only 895 yards this season.
Cowboys running back Darren McFadden has 49 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown the past two games since taking over as the starter.
“I think you miss him as a leader, and you miss him as a ballplayer,” running backs coach Gary Brown said of Murray. “I think we all miss him as a brother and as a friend. But we understand he had to do what he had to do for himself and his family, and we wish him well. I think we do miss him, but we also know we’ve got to move forward.”
The Cowboys have turned their running game over to Darren McFadden, whom they signed the day after Murray left for Philadelphia. McFadden has 49 carries for 216 yards and a touchdown the past two games as the team’s feature back.
“I’m excited the direction we’ve gone, especially after the bye, with our running game, and the commitment we have to 20 [McFadden’s jersey number] getting a lot of carries,” Linehan said. “I think that gets us in a better position or a little bit more like what we were a year ago.”
McFadden, who has a history of injuries, had not had back-to-back games with 20-plus carries since early in the 2011 season. He has never had three consecutive games with 20-plus carries but relishes the opportunity.
606 Fewer yards for Murray this season through seven games. He gained 913 through seven last year.
“I feel like people see [he can carry the load] these last couple of weeks just to go out there and get 20-plus carries,” McFadden said. “I have to give credit to the offensive line. Those guys do a great job out there. They’re going to continue to get better each week and build on it.”
The Eagles’ signing of Murray appears to have hurt their NFC East rival far more than it’s helped their running game.
Murray had an NFL-record eight 100-yard games to start last season and rushed for 913 yards in the first seven. He has only 307 yards so far this year, though he did miss one game.
Murray played 74 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps last season. He had 82.4 percent of the carries by running backs.
In Philadelphia, Murray splits time and carries with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. He participated in only 45 percent of the 439 snaps in the six games he has played. Murray has 50.3 percent of the carries by the running backs, but 35 yards fewer than Mathews.
“With any player, the more reps and plays you get, whether it’s carries or just plays in general, the more you’re out there, I think the more comfortable you get,” Murray said.
Cowboys fans might not recognize Murray in the midnight green jersey, and he might not know the way to the visitors’ locker room at AT&T Stadium. But the Cowboys have moved on, and No. 29 has, too, even if it wasn’t the best thing for either of them.
Eagles at Cowboys
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5