The Dallas Cowboys second biggest decision in free agency, right behind how much it is going to cost to keep Dez Bryant, is what to do about DeMarco Murray. The leading rusher and Offensive Player of the Year for 2014 is going to demand a high price. Jerry Jones and the team staff have to decide if they can meet his price, or if they will let him sign elsewhere to use the cap space and money he would cost on other team needs.
For some time, it has been argued that the Cowboys could let Murray go somewhere that would maximize his bank account because production at running back is supposed to be one of the easiest things to replace for an NFL team. This is the era of running back by committee and plug and play at the position. It was widely assumed that the first fallback position for the Cowboys was to promote backup Joseph Randle to the starting job if Murray was gone.
A major monkey wrench has since landed right square in the middle of the gears for Dallas. Randle was involved in an incident with law enforcement in his home town of Wichita, Kansas. The details are still not totally clear, particularly whether or not this was really an arrest or just detention at the scene by the authorities. However, the following things seem to be factual:
- Police were called to Randle's hotel room at around 3 am
- There were multiple other people involved, including the mother of Randle's child
- There was a disturbance
- Marijuana was found, and Randle stated that it was his
- Randle was ticketed for possession of the weed
Outside of whether or not the NFL policy or the current legal environment involving marijuana are correct, the situation is nothing but red flags, especially for a team that has such clear expectations for the kind of players it wants to use to build the roster. It is not so much the severity of what happened, which is not much even when compared to other things that NFL players were involved in this week. What is of major concern is that Randle was putting himself in a high-risk situation. Having multiple visitors to your hotel room in the wee hours of the morning, especially the kind of visitors that are going to refuse to leave and will lead to the police getting called while you have illegal narcotics in your possession, does not speak well of his judgement. And this may not be over.
Wichita police still investigating incident in which Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession.— Stan (@StanFinger) February 5, 2015
(The author of the Tweet is a reporter for the Wichita newspaper.)
As a one-time incident, this would not be any kind of automatic deal-breaker. But this is the second run-in with the law for Randle in a year. His shoplifting arrest was just starting to get far enough in the past to be considered a one-time mistake. Now, the question facing the Cowboys is whether this is a pattern of behavior that is going to continue? The most common term I have seen used to describe Randle is "knucklehead", which seems to indicate that his problem is being young and lacking judgement, not a troublemaker or malcontent. He is only 23, and as Bryant has proven, it is possible to clean up your act and mature.
But Bryant and Randle are not the same. Bryant is a first-round draft pick and probably one of the two or three best wide receivers in the league. His problems involved things going on in his own home with family members, and some incidents outside the home that did not involve any illegal substances, but were as much about his manner of dress and some poor money management as anything. Randle is a backup running back that only cost the team a fifth-round pick. And most importantly, both of Randle's incidents involved illegal activity on his part. Again, whether or not you agree with the wisdom of making possession of marijuana a crime, it is illegal in Kansas, and Randle knew it was, and put himself in a position to get caught with it.
At the very least, this has to have created some doubts about Randle among the staff. It also casts the remarkably large signing bonus offered to Ryan Williams in a different light. It makes you wonder if he got almost a quarter of a million dollars because the team was already concerned about relying on Randle to be the first option if Murray was not going to be around, and felt a real need to hedge that bet.
This is a reminder that we, as fans, only see a tiny fraction of what the coaches and management of the team see. We don't know how Randle practices day to day, we don't know how he comes across in team meetings, and we don't know what he is really like in the locker room. The team does, and may have had good reason to feel some doubts. At the least, you can be sure they did not forget about the shoplifting incident, and the apparent lack of any real remorse on Randle's part. Fans can gripe about what their teams do all they want, but they should always remember that they are operating with far, far less information that the teams have.
Although many have maintained that this makes finding a way to keep Murray on the team more of a priority, the fact that the team had some inkling that Randle might not be a dependable fallback for Murray means that all this should not have any impact on how they approach the negotiations to retain the latter's services. That is too important a decision. The incident in Wichita may be essentially over and done with, but more importantly, the negotiations with Murray should be all about what the team can pay, not about whether his backup is or is not available to possibly become his replacement. The Williams deal already gives Dallas another chance to find the next starter from within the roster, if it is needed. It also gives them a possible replacement for Randle, so any decision on his future with the team should not be influenced by concerns about leaving a hole in the roster.
The correct way for Dallas to approach both Murray and Randle is to deal with each case independently. The only criteria that matters is whether retaining either player is best for the team. Neither decision should influence the other. Once the team has figured out what to do about each, it then will know how many roster spots it needs to fill through free agency and the draft, but it cannot worry about that while evaluating each situation. If you let one influence the other, it just increases the chances of making a bad choice because focus is lost. The Cowboys need to sort out if Randle's expected value on the field is worth dealing with this situation or not, and make their best guess as to whether this is a fixed pattern of behavior or whether he can mature and avoid these kinds of situations. His run-in in Wichita has not changed the questions about Murray. It has just opened up new questions about himself, ones that the team was hoping would not be opened up again.