Gil LeBreton

Jerry Jones needs to pay Dez, let Murray and Randle go

Dez Bryant gets it — and he should be rewarded with a lucrative contract.
Dez Bryant gets it — and he should be rewarded with a lucrative contract. Star-Telegram

There’s a narrative going around that Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is disruptive, untamed, unreliable and, therefore, a poor long-term football investment.

Hogwash.

That was the post-Deion, baggy-mall-pants, first-time-around-the-NFL-block Bryant. The Dez that soon would be scared straight.

As Owner Jones, still high on playoff vapors, prepares to put together his 2015 team, it is being roundly surmised in the media that difficult decisions must be made — Bryant’s Cowboys future being one of them.

On the contrary, however. Unless Dez has precedent-setting demands in mind, he should be among the least of Jerry’s off-season worries.

This is not your grandpa’s NFL. The modern pro football enterprise builds its foundation around, in order, its quarterback, wide receivers, guys who can rush the passer and cornerbacks.

Running backs, we are told, are yesterday’s news, bearing the burdens of a changing game and a short career shelf life.

Backup running back Joseph Randle, in other words, couldn’t have picked a worse time to be showing up on the evening news. The team previously bit its lip and let Randle stay on, despite the embarrassing underwear theft incident.

But now comes Tuesday’s news, in which tapes of the 911 calls from the episode in Wichita were made public. The voice of his ex-girlfriend — mother of his 1-year-old child — saying that Randle had a gun and was threatening to “blast the vehicle” with the baby inside of it is chilling, whether Randle’s lawyer says the incident was overblown or not.

What happens to the running back next will be up to the police and the NFL. Why Owner Jones would want to share that vigil with a trouble-making backup running back is beyond me.

The team’s No. 1 running back, DeMarco Murray, is a different case. Free agent Murray, who turns 27 this week, did rush for a league-leading 1,845 yards this past season.

Good for him. Murray had his healthiest and most productive season in the final year of his contract. There likely may be 8-10 teams who would think the NFL’s top 2014 rusher is the missing piece in their championship puzzle.

But the Cowboys can’t afford him, not even at the franchise tag price — not if they want to sign Bryant to a long-term deal and also address their shortcomings on defense.

From his rookie year of 2011 through 2013, Murray missed 11 games because of injuries. The Cowboys were 5-6 without him, 19-18 with him.

For his part, there is little or no incentive for Murray to give the Cowboys any discount on a new deal. This is his first and last chance to cash in and, after all, Murray did grow up in Las Vegas.

Adrian Peterson — the off-season’s other spicy narrative — is also waiting to see what his future has in store. The league won’t rule on lifting his suspension until at least April 15.

Jones probably would love the star power of having Peterson in a Cowboys uniform. But if the Cowboys can’t afford to pay Murray, how can they ignore their defensive needs and instead pay Peterson, who’s due to earn $12.75 million?

And what makes you sure that Minnesota will cut him in the first place? The Vikings lost a lot of games — 53 in six seasons — to get to a place where they could draft Peterson with the seventh pick in 2007. He remains coach Mike Zimmer’s primary offensive weapon.

Of course, Zimmer could always trade Peterson to a coveting Owner Jones. Zim certainly must be well aware of the Revenge of the Herschel Walker Trade implications.

But the feeling here is that Minnesota will decide to pay and retain Peterson. Murray will end up signing with an NFC rival, which means the Cowboys’ defense will have to tackle him for the next two or so seasons.

And Dez Bryant will receive the rich long-term contract that he deserves because, contrary to the ongoing narrative, he gets it. Trouble may sometimes shadow Dez, but he’s no longer a troublemaker. In truth, he’s one Tony Romo dimple away from becoming the face of the franchise.

In today’s NFL, that makes Bryant a high priority.

But Owner Jones should already know that.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7797

Twitter: @gilebreton

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