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Can The Dallas Cowboys Handle A New DeMarco Murray Contract?

DeMarco Murray has been phenomenal, on pace to shatter even more records than his recent seven 100+yard rushing games to start the season. But can the Dallas Cowboys afford to re-sign him after 2014? Can they afford to lose him?

Wesley Hitt

DeMarco Murray is a huge part of the Dallas Cowboys success in 2014, so much so that his name is appearing on the short list of NFL MVP candidates. With the Dez Bryant contract talks put on hold until after the season, it's doubtful anything will happen with Murray either. On the final year of his contract, Murray could be looking at a huge payday if he continues his current pace and incredible season.

But is the "media shy" Murray a prime candidate for the Cowboys hometown discount?

DeMarco has always tried to avoid the media, never using it to increase his popularity or boast claims of being the best in the league by breaking records and making history. Murray has always appeared to be the ultimate team player, the best lieutenant any leader could want, working harder than anyone else but never wanting recognition or the task of leading with more than his deeds. He simply doesn't strike me as a player that wants to set the largest running back contract in the league at the expense of leaving his team after such a strong showing this season.

Optimistic by nature, perhaps I wish to see the best possible in people. But still, Murray strikes me as a fighter that would sacrifice some fortune for greater glory and a chance to stay with HIS team over the next few years. It seems he would be happy to guarantee himself a lot of money while staying "home" with the Cowboys and playing for a contender looking to reap the rewards of their hard work, even if he might be able to make more elsewhere.

If I had the great pleasure of handling the Cowboys contract talks, I would look for an opportunity this season to sit down with Murray (and his agent) and be very upfront about the situation.

"The success of the Dallas Cowboys franchise is based on the team identity and effort of every guy wearing the Star on their helmet, clothes, and offices. We have a great thing going on and it's a team effort. We won't interrupt it with drawn out contract talks, but you need to know we would love to have you stay with the Cowboys. But it's more important to us to have money to spend on the team and remain contenders while you are here in the coming years."

I would explain that this free agency period will bring him the opportunity to cash in big, and any businessman would tell him competing offers will drive up the contract's value. But the business side of football would also tell the team a franchise tag would be the wisest move when they can't/won't compete in a bidding war and harm the long-term stability of their salary cap situation. It's not what the team would prefer to do, and it understandably comes with risks to Murray, but it would be the necessary outcome to avoid a bidding war.

It would be preferable to get something worked out that would guarantee Murray more money than the franchise tag (probably around $9.5 million), with a greater chance of finishing out his contract. In fact, a team friendly deal could even allow the Cowboys to guarantee Murray more money than a big FA deal. But before we get into those specifics, there is one thing to make clear. Adrian Peterson's contract is far off-base and certainly something the team would avoid with a franchise tag. In fact, it would be best to make it clear that the running back contract numbers the franchise will be using to quantify running back money will not include Peterson's current contract (which may not even exist by the end of the season). To get a better idea of the discrepancy, here are the averages of the Top 3 RB contracts in base salaries and cap hits over the next three years. You will notice a huge difference when the Top 3 are calculated without Peterson in the mix (#2-4).

Top 3 w/ AP 2015 2016 2017
Salary 9.716 mil 9.383 mil 9.950 mil
Cap Hit 12.116 mil 11.350 mil 11.033 mil

Top 3 w/ out 2015 2016 2017
Salary 7.466 mil 6.133 mil 5.616 mil
Cap Hit 9.916 mil 9.3 mil 7.7 mil

Remarkably, there is a 50% to 25% difference in the salary averages without AP, a staggering change from just one player's contract. It would seem pretty clear that if Murray is interested in trying to get Top 3 money (based on AP deal), then the Cowboys would be forced to spend slightly less for one year with a franchise tag. It would guarantee Murray "only" nine to ten million dollars and then uncertainty after one year. But I think it is in Murray's benefit to work on a team friendly deal (based on Top 3 without AP) even if he does manage to land a contract reflecting the AP Top 3 money...even if lucky enough to land on a team he likes.

For example, the big FA deal could be something like $10 mil a year for four years with a $10 mil signing bonus. It would be reported as a "fifty million dollar deal" with something like $20 mil guaranteed - first year salary and signing bonus. But at that salary over four years, Murray runs the risk of setting himself up as a cap casualty prior to the completion of his contract. A team could save ten million from the base salary with only two and a half to five million in dead money.

I would present a Cowboys deal based on the Top 3 contracts without AP and explain that the *final two years would have $2 mil of his base salary set as "likely to be reached" incentives just to mitigate some risk for the team. However, with the lower base salary, the deal would guarantee two years of salary. Better shown than said:

"Dallas Discount" 2015 2016 2017 2018
Salary 7 mil 7 mil 7 mil * 7 mil *
Cap Hit 9.5 mil 9.5 mil 9.5 mil 9.5 mil
"Big FA Deal" 2015 2016 2017 2018
Salary 10 mil 10 mil 10 mil 10 mil
Cap Hit 12.5 mil 12.5 mil 12.5 mil 12.5 mil

In essence, the difference would be a $50 mil contract with $20 mil guaranteed versus a $38 mil contract with $24 mil guaranteed. It would not only provide more guaranteed money, it would also provide Murray with a greater sense of long-term security. At the age of 29 and 30, Murray could be secure in knowing the likelihood of him running behind the Dallas Cowboys "veteran" offensive line and making top (realistic) running back money, instead of being worried he might become a cap casualty in a market that is seeing fewer RBs drafted early and average salary numbers decreasing.

Anyway, that is one fan's rant about the DeMarco Murray contract situation. I think he is a very talented running back, tough, physical, and has the exact kind of demeanor and team mentality that you would want in a player...which I think also becomes an advantage when it comes to contract talks. He gets better every season, making better cutback decisions more often. He helps set a tone and toughness that would be dearly missed. But in today's NFL, there is simply too much risk in tying up so much money on such a grueling position that sees frequent injuries and quick declines in production.

But if you can get Murray, a hardworking, team player to think about the long-term future, the process of becoming a modern NFL dynasty (annual contender) and the security of playing for a good team for several years rather than cashing it big only in the short-term, there is an opportunity for things to work out well for the player and the team.

But what do you think? Would you be willing to pay Murray either of these hypothetical contracts? Would the franchise tag be something you would be forced into or would you let Murray test FA market instead of paying him nearly $10 mil for one year? Do you think Murray would accept a "team friendly" deal? Can the team afford to move on without him?

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