We've only just begun, as some would say. First we had all the names being released last week. Staples in their organizations such as Vince Wilfork and Trent Cole have been set free. Others such as Ndamukong Suh and Devin McCourty will go to the highest bidders.
We even have players being generous to remain with their own organizations, as did with Randall Cobb's four-year, $40 million extension. What does any of this mean for the Dallas Cowboys? We certainly will soon find out. Here's a plan for a successful outing.
The Cowboys SHOULD do everything in their power to bring the four year veteran back. They SHOULD NOT overpay for his services. Murray is 27 years old and the magic number for a running back is 28. Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice (albeit off-field issues) are all coming to mind here. The minute a back enters the league, he's on a timer just like everyone else. LaDainian Tomlinson led the league in rushing at 27 with 1,815 yards, 348 carries, a 5.2 YPC, and 28 touchdowns. The following year he led again but at a smaller margin with 1,474 yards, 315 carries, 4.7 YPC, and 14 touchdowns. At 29, Tomlinson carried the ball 292 times for 1,110 yards, and an average of 3.8 YPC. That's nearly a yard difference each year. I think you catch my drift.
History suggests that Murray's 1,845 yard season will not be duplicated in 2015. That's well and good because the Cowboys don't have to have that; what they need is a durable back that can weather the storm of a full season. Murray played all-worldly in 2014, and likely will look to build on that in 2015, yet you can never be too sure about these things. If Murray were to follow the same road as 2014, I would likely say he will be a dead horse come playoff time. I have all the reasoning to believe that because during the regular season Murray averaged 115.3 yards a game with a 4.7 YPC. In the postseason, albeit two outings, Murray average 99 yards with a 4.5 YPC. It may not seem as big a difference, but Murray was getting tired, and nobody should blame him. What this may really mean is that the Cowboys may need to find a more "reliable" replacement than Joe Randle, who seems to always find a way to be a knucklehead.
Bottom Line: The Cowboys should not offer Murray a contract based on 2012 running backs. That's lunacy in my opinion. In an "ever-evolving" league, things change plain and simple. I would offer Murray a front-loaded contract like a 5 year, $33-35 million deal, with $15-17 million guaranteed. If "rumors" are true about him wanting to stay for a "respectable" deal, that would likely do the trick while giving the team options later.
Where's The Rush?
The Cowboys' need to upgrade their defensive line is a forgone conclusion. What they SHOULD do is bring in some outside help. What they SHOULD NOT do is find that solution on March 10th. Dallas needs to first focus on bringing in a rushing defensive end that can help DeMarcus Lawrence out while allowing Jeremy Mincey the freedom to be their utility-man. This problem will certainly need another shot of penicillin come draft day as well, but for now Dallas will need to grab a guy with three things:
A.) Youth - No need to grab a guy toward the end of his career unless you are certain the money will be right and he has something left in the tank. Instead, go for a guy whose around 25-28 and can be useful for more than a "miracle-run." Those type of "swan-song" players are cute and all but those types of things rarely happen.
B.) History of high production - Whether it be a guy with a high draft status that you've seen good things from before or a guy that is being mistreated by his club, you want someone that has at least shown once or twice that he can get the job done, but he just needs more opportunities.
C.) Good character - A high-motor, high-intensity guy comes to mind. Someone that will show up at training camp and get others around him excited about the defense. A player that will not disrupt your locker room and get on the field with no results. Marinelli needs high-motors and that's all that should walk through that door.
With that said the three wishlist guys that fit all of this criteria and have played rushing defensive end in a 4-3 system are as follows:
1. Brandon Graham, 26, PHI- We've seen a lot of him over the past few seasons. I'm not certain what his market will be but I think he'll certainly be in the discussion. With Hughes, Hardy and others out there, that bodes well for Dallas' chances.
2. Adrian Clayborn, 26, TB - Clayborn is that high draft status guy that has all the makings of a reclamation project for Rod Marinelli. High motor, high intensity, just needs a better shot at making an impact.
3. Jabaal Sheard, 25, CLE - Sheard is the guy with a decent draft status and a history of production. He led Cleveland in sacks with nine in his rookie year and has managed to remain active while being phased out of his defense. One man's trash could be the Cowboys' next play-maker.
Bottom Line: All of the aforementioned guys should hopefully be around a few days into free agency. There are others out there too like O'Brien Schofield that may be worth a shot. If Dallas wants one, they'll be a-plenty to pick from.
Does Anyone Have A Hog?!
A big piece to a successful free agency period for Dallas may come in the form of a one-tech. For all you Nick Hayden fans out there, I apologize if this sounds crass but he's not an adequate starter. With that said I'd love to have him back...as a back-up. I want a true one-tech that can come in and get sloppy on gameday. I cannot be certain that guy is on the roster at this point. Okoye is a three, who may never play again. Brent is trying to learn to play the position again after being out of the league for two years. Bishop will need to show significant progress in year two to keep me from going outside.
Stephen Paea is at the top of my wishlist but the price will dictate his availability. Jared Odrick could be another candidate, though may be better suited for Henry Melton 's role. There just aren't a lot of guys in the NFL like that anymore. Wilfork is too old in my book. Gone are the days where you could find one at the nearest buffet line. This may be the position that may best serve the Cowboys to find in the draft.
Stick With What Got You To The Dance
Bryan Broaddus has been clamoring all this time about how the feeling within the organization was to commit to those players within. This is a great idea for the Cowboys to stick with for the most part. So far we've seen deals being dished to Cole Beasley and Doug Free, tenders to Lance Dunbar and Chris Jones, and the retaining of restricted guys like Ron Leary. The Cowboys SHOULD NOT break the chemistry that was set in 2014 by changing the entire roster. Roster churning equals good, but letting everyone walk isn't the right approach. I would expect to see a few more of these types of signings. The big three for me are as follows:
1. Rolando McClain - Trust certainly waned later in the season, his ability to set tones in games such as Seattle though still ring true. He's just a freakish athlete and when he hits somebody, they feel it for days. It would also allow for the Cowboys to move Sean Lee outside and let the competition begin at SAM.
2. Justin Durant - Though I would rather this be Bruce Carter, I just don't see that happening. Carter will likely command more money outside of Dallas. Durant has had his issues with injury but could be had for next to peanuts. Durant was playing out-of-his-mind before his injury and would be a good compliment to McClain and Lee. I see a two-year deal in his future.
3. Anthony Spencer - He just did what most folks never do, come back and play strong after suffering a micro-fracture surgery. Toward the end of the year, Spencer was catching fire and was showing his ability to be a difference maker. Only the Cowboys know his true value but I think he would be another easily attainable guy.
The Cowboys did a nice job of creating depth in 2014. They SHOULD continue that platform, they SHOULD NOT bring in JAGs to fill key backup roles. Depth is not created by sheer numbers, but quality back ups are hard to find. That being said, the Cowboys will likely have to move on from guys like Jermey Parnell, Bruce Carter, and maybe even Sterling Moore now that he won't be tendered. The Cowboys will need to find quality back ups at:
1. Offensive Tackle - With Doug Free's injury history, and Parnell's likely departure, I would be searching high and low for an affordable veteran to be behind him.
2. Linebacker - The Cowboys seem to have done this with the Keith Rivers signing, but look for another affordable option such as Mason Foster or Malcolm Smith if possible.
3. Cornerback - I'm open to bringing Moore back, but if he's gone, I'm doing whatever I can to find somebody on the market and then looking to the draft. The uncertainty surrounding Claiborne's injury, Carr's contract, and Moore's availability is too much to overcome without a veteran or two.
4. Running Back - I like Williams and Randle but can you trust them? Williams has been oft-injured and Randle can't keep himself out of trouble as previously mentioned. I want a reliable back-up option to break through. Maybe he's on the roster but you won't find out until Training Camp. Why not bring in another option and let them battle it out? No, not C.J. Spiller.
The Final Bottom Line: The Cowboys will have their work cut out for them as in every year. Patience is a virtue and Stephen Jones has a lot of patience. I believe that trend will continue and the Cowboys will wait a week or so into free agency before making splashes.