As much as the Dallas Cowboys wanted to keep running back DeMarco Murray, their desire to get better as a football team was far greater.
They couldn’t do that and spend the type of money Murray wanted in free agency and finally received from the Philadelphia Eagles in the form of a five-year, $42 million contract.
Ultimately, the Cowboys decided to move on from the league’s leading rusher, who set a team record with 1,845 yards in 2014.
“Under the right circumstances it would have been good for everybody for him to be here,” owner Jerry Jones said. “On the other hand, our best chance of getting better was to make the decision we made.
“I was asked right after I bought the Cowboys why is it that you drive a 5-year-old Bronco with mud on it and yet you’re getting out of an airplane. And I said you can’t have it all. The way you get an airplane is to drive the 5-year-old Bronco. We have great receivers. We have a great quarterback. We have a great offensive line. We’re trying to get more defense so you have to make some tough decisions. You can’t have it all. It’s just impossible.”
The decision to sign Greg Hardy to give the Cowboys some firepower on defense was a step toward balancing the team out and getting better overall, Jones said.
The decision was also about Murray’s history as well as that of the running back position.
Vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys considered a number of factors in trying to find a right price for Murray that clearly wasn’t high enough. They studied the analytics of how backs decline in production as they get older. They looked at the impact of Murray’s high of number carries (392 in 2014), and how that would affect him going forward.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly said they factored in the impact of Murray’s carries when they added he and running back Ryan Matthews in free agency to share the load in Philadelphia.
The Cowboys also looked at Murray’s injury throughout his time with the Cowboys and the fact that his career year came during his contract season. It was notable that he wasn’t a consistent force throughout his career in Dallas as was Hall of Famer and NFL running back Emmitt Smith, who warranted franchise-back money and status.
“To me what you can do is be consistent every year like Emmitt Smith was,” Stephen Jones said. “You are even more unique if you can do it every year. It’s well documented he was injured every year until this last year.”
The Cowboys believe they can replace Murray’s production with the backs they have on the roster and possibly one in the NFL Draft because of the presence of the best offensive line in the NFL.
It’s a belief that coach Jason Garrett holds as well, even though he stumped for Murray as much as anyone before Murray joined the Eagles.
Garrett said the team’s focus now is finding someone to replace Murray as the centerpiece of the Cowboys’ running game. He also said the team will keep the same physical, run-oriented style of offense in 2015.
“We have a number of different candidates on our roster. There are certainly candidates in the draft,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys feel good about incumbent running back Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams and free-agent signee Darren McFadden. The group gives them veteran options who can give them depth and stability at the position.
But the Cowboys are making no secret that they will target a running back in the upcoming draft, including the 27th overall pick or possibly their second pick at No. 60.
To that end, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys are planning pre-draft visits with many of the top backs in the draft, including Todd Gurley of Georgia and Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin. They are also bringing in Tevin Coleman of Indiana, Jay Ajayi of Boise State and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska.
Jerry Jones said going with a top-notch rookie running back may be the best value for the Cowboys rather than paying a veteran such as Murray because of the rookie wage scale.
“You could get the best player on your team early in his career, without many carries, best suited for injuries at a good price,” he said. “The value is there.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr.