Monday, October 27, 2014

Email Bag: The DeMarco Murray Contract Conundrum

Since there is no Sunday game to dissect this morning, I wanted to take advantage of the calm before tonight's storm and address something that came up in last week's DMN chat and elaborate just a bit.
Here is the question from one of our readers and my chat-length answer:
Question: What would you rather do: Pay Murray 4 yrs at 45 million with 20 mill guaranteed and the option to get out of the last year OR spend your first round draft pick on Todd Gurley if he fell to you.
Bob Sturm: I would have to decide on Murray before I knew if Gurley would fall to me. Also, Gurley would not fall to a team that might draft really, really late in Round 1. So, I would love to replace DeMarco with Gurley, but given what I can control, I would franchise Murray next spring for 1 year.
This exchange generated a large amount of email feedback that made me wonder if I needed to be more clear as to state my case as it appears that DeMarco and his future is one of those polarizing topics for many Cowboys' loyalists.
First, a few facts to enjoy: Even though many of the NFL's Running Backs have played 8 games already, DeMarco Murray still holds a 147 yard lead on his closest competitor (Arian Foster, also just 7 games) in the NFL rushing race.  He also has carried the ball 41 times more than anyone (Foster, again) and has touched the ball 21 more times than anyone (Matt Forte, 209-188).
Le'Veon Bell of Pittsburgh has pulled ahead of Murray in Total Yards from Scrimmage yesterday, but he has played his 8th game.  The lead 14 yards, so barring a real disaster tonight, Murray should be back in charge of that statistic well before halftime.
Murray is certainly being compared to the best in the sport, but he is also dealing with be compared to himself.  This is his 4th year in the league and it is conceivable that before October ends he could have career highs in every category.  Now, he would need 31 carries tonight for 209 yards, but from what we have seen so far, neither is off the radar completely.  But, even if we go extremely conservative with his performance, he will have both marks before the bye week.  Career highs in every category by the 10th game is pretty much a given.
And, his rookie contract ends in 2014.  That contract was valued at $2.97m for 4 years after being selected in the 3rd round which gave the Cowboys the fantastic value of having Murray for less than $750k per season.  Well, that bargain is about to expire and his value is about to explode (we can assume).
Now, he has a very complex deal to work out, because as everyone who is reading this is more than well aware, Murray and his style do not seem to suggest that he can be a durable work-horse for the next 5 years (like Emmitt Smith was once upon a time).
Tonight is the 56th game of his career and he will play in his 45th.  This is better than Bo Jackson's pace, but it does speak to why people don't want to pay running backs at a premium - because the shelf life of the elite runner is generally short.
Which brings other email responses that stress the only thing that is "elite" in the running game is the offensive line.  The idea held by many appears to be that any number of backs could have great success behind this offensive line and that Murray is merely the beneficiary of having great space being handed to him by the 3 1st-round picks in front of him (and their friends).
As I have said a number of times, I disagree with that.  Maybe that point will be tested if Murray misses 3 weeks in 2014 and Lance Dunbar or Joseph Randle can duplicate this work load, but I warn anyone with this position that the job Murray does is not limited to running yards.  This is not fantasy football where it is all measured with statistics.  For me, the job he does as a complete back can not be over-stated.  He is very smart and dependable in the passing game to always identify and execute the blocks in the passing game to protect Tony Romo when he is stepping into key throws.  Murray has a very high success rate in this capacity that his mates at RB absolutely don't have.
Then, with his running style, I think he always is decisive and able to get that extra yard when there is nothing.  He turns losses into no gain.  He turns no gain into +2.  And that is very valuable in this offense.  Further, he punishes defensive backs over 3 hours to where they don't want to deal with him any longer by the 2nd half.
But, what do you pay him?
You may remember this graphic from last Wednesday's Morning News Story by Brandon George that shows just how many deals are coming free after this season:

When you see how many names on here, you can see how vital it is to be careful with both your available cap space (limited) and your targets of first priority.
Dez Bryant has to be 1st and foremost on this list, with Murray and Rolando McClain next on my list (and I am sure I am not alone).  Then comes figuring out the plan at Right Tackle and so on.
The Cowboys simply must find a long-term solution with Bryant.  I assume he has a very high self-valuation based on the fact that a deal is not already done (see: Tyron Smith), so there has to be compromise on both sides, but this is why I am back at Murray.
Assuming that Bryant gets done, then I am using the franchise tag on Murray.  I don't wish to do a long term deal with him if I have to go to Forte (4 years/$30.4 million), Foster (5/$43.5m), or LeSean McCoy (5/$45m) numbers.  I would be delighted if he would settle for a deal in the 5/$25m range (with a nice guarantee), but I imagine he has his sights on one of those deals that puts him at $7-8m a year, not the $5m I want to do.
The franchise tag would actually be $9.5m or so (based on last year, but it could drop - depending on Adrian Peterson's deal being intact or not in Minnesota), but it would also only be for the 1-year, which gives you "durability insurance".
The timing with the franchise tag is dependent on Bryant's deal, because of the two, you have to feel that Bryant is the one you must keep at all costs.  Murray is very valuable, but I could replace him more easily in the draft than Dez.
As for Todd Gurley, there were several readers who promised me that Gurley won't go in the 1st round because "RBs don't go in the 1st round anymore".  I will bet against that being true with him unless he has a horrid Combine.  He is going in the top round (unless my eyes deceive me) so the odds of him getting the Cowboys pick are not great anyway, and the Murray decisions would all be made before the draft.  You would have to know your plan with DeMarco before you have any idea what you can do in the draft.  Just assume that Gurley will be somewhere else for his NFL career.
If I am king (which I am absolutely not), I extend Bryant during the bye week (somewhere in the range of $14m a year for 6 years and $30m guaranteed would be the going rate for this type of deal) which allows for the franchise tag on Murray.  There won't be much space for other big purchases (sorry to Henry Melton, Bruce Carter, and Doug Free), but I am going to make sure that Murray is in a Cowboys uniform in 2015 for sure.  He is too valuable to this whole operation.
Hopefully that cleared up my stance on the entire issue.  Now, let's get ready for the action on the field tonight.

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