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Looking back, DeMarco Murray greatly altered the NFC East’s top two teams

DeMarco Murray became a domino for two different franchises.

About a month ago here at BTB we discussed the always-fascinating “what if” conundrum, this time with regards to Dez Bryant’s catch in Green Bay over three years ago.

This is one of the deepest rabbit holes that Cowboys fans can venture down, but let me direct you to one that occurred just a few months later. What if DeMarco Murray had re-signed in Dallas as opposed to leaving for Philadelphia?

The 2015 Cowboys wouldn’t have been better, but DeMarco would have been a star

We should all have badges of honor for surviving the horror that was the 2015 season with the Cowboys, what with Tony Romo getting injured twice. If DeMarco Murray was still on the Cowboys instead of in Philadelphia (where Romo was first injured, coincidentally), it’s unlikely he would have made an enormous difference.

A season before when Romo didn’t play due to injury against the Arizona Cardinals, DeMarco was unable to do much with Brandon Weeden as his quarterback. Murray had started off the season with eight consecutive games eclipsing 100 yards rushing, that streak came to a halt that fateful day (19 carries, 79 yards).

Weeden was the man tasked with leading the Cowboys in Romo’s absence, although he was quickly spelled for Matt Cassel (it’s so depressing thinking back to 2015). This was the season that Joseph Randle was supposed to eat all the meat that DeMarco Murray allegedly left on the bone, but that situation quickly devolved as well.

While Murray would not have likely made a difference in the Cowboys record it’s definitely fair to say that he would have been the face of the team during this stretch. Dez Bryant was also injured so the team was lacking not just offensive firepower, but star power as well. People so badly wanted to equate Romo, Murray, and Bryant to the triplets of the 90s - had Murray been the lone man standing he would have been the leader so to speak.

What about after that season? Would the Cowboys have drafted Zeke?

It’s difficult to imagine that just one year after giving DeMarco a long-term contract that the Cowboys would have utilized the fourth overall pick that they painfully earned on running back Ezekiel Elliott. Their ball-carrier and offensive line would have been in place, and their secondary would still be in need of help. Jalen Ramsey would have likely been their selection.

Who knows where Zeke would have ended up had Dallas indeed taken Ramsey, but it’s still likely the club would have taken Dak Prescott in the fourth round. Keeping DeMarco a year earlier would have changed some things, but it wouldn’t have altered that Tony Romo was hurt so often.

Would Dak have had the season that he ultimately did in 2016 next to DeMarco?

Speaking of Prescott, in this hypothetical we’ll say Romo still gets hurt in Seattle during the preseason. Why wouldn’t he? We’ll consider all other factors independent of Zeke or DeMarco so the rest plays out as it did (including Kellen Moore’s injury).

Dak would have been called upon, but he would have been lining up next to a five-year veteran and face of the franchise (not to mention a close pal of Tony Romo) in DeMarco Murray. This isn’t meant to turn into a debate about whether Dak’s success is dependent on who Ezekiel Elliott is or not, but there’s no question that DeMarco isn’t the player that Zeke is. It’s hard to say that the 2016 season unfolds exactly the way that it did with Murray in over Elliott.

Perhaps the team wouldn’t have gone on the roll that they did and perhaps Jason Garrett and Co. would have then turned back to Tony Romo to save the team once more. Maybe this means Romo is still playing, maybe it doesn’t. It definitely means things would have been a little different and that Phil Simms might still be the lead color analyst for CBS.

DeMarco might not have been terrible next to Dak Prescott

After DeMarco Murray begged to be traded away from the Philadelphia Eagles (we’re getting there) he landed with the Tennessee Titans. Murray was quickly joined in the running back room by then-reigning Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, but more importantly he hooked up with second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Nobody is trying to compare Dak to Mariota, but the grand point is that DeMarco still prospered next to a young quarterback. During his first year in Tennessee, Murray was actually third in the NFL in rushing trailing only Jordan Howard and, coincidentally, Ezekiel Elliott.

The Titans only finished 9-7 in 2016 which further suggests that Dallas wouldn’t have gone 13-3 with Murray in over Elliott. While this idea does justify the drafting of Zeke, it certainly makes those that will forever be loyal to Tony Romo wonder whether DeMarco leaving helped create the perfect storm that led to his replacement’s success.

It’s possible that DeMarco Murray also made the Eagles better overall

In the spring of 2015 the world saw DeMarco Murray sign a five-year $40M deal with the Eagles with half of that money guaranteed. It made no sense, it still makes no sense, and it’s part of the reason why Chip Kelly is coaching UCLA and not the guy who hoisted the Lombardi five months ago.

Shockingly (sarcasm), DeMarco hated it in Philadelphia. He asked to be traded after just one year in Philadelphia. Thanks to the magician that is Howie Roseman, all the Eagles had to do was jump 13 spots in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Unbelievable, man.

Philadelphia didn’t exactly have major success running the ball in 2016 (Ryan Mathews led the way with 661 yards), but they basically purged the position group entirely the next offseason. A year ago the Eagles added LeGarrette Blount in free agency and traded for Jay Ajayi during the season, both of whom played big roles en route to the Eagles winning Super Bowl LII. DeMarco Murray was just now released this offseason for the first time in his NFL career (his guaranteed money made this difficult), it’s unlikely the Eagles would have been able to have gotten rid of him... would they lave landed Blount or Ajayi then?

This of course raises the question, would the Eagles have won the Super Bowl last season with (or potentially in spite of) DeMarco? Would he have singlehandedly either prevented them from other acquisitions or just been enough individually to weigh them down so that they wouldn’t have won it? Would DeMarco have a Super Bowl ring himself had he not begged to be traded away from Philadelphia? These questions don’t have answers, but they exist because of the domino effect that Murray’s decisions had.

DeMarco Murray was a guest on Adam Schefter’s podcast this week, and he discussed a lot about both is past and his future. He noted that he went to Cabo with Tony Romo this offseason (this post isn’t meant to pick at all your old wounds, I promise) and that he’s simply waiting for the right fit in terms of where he’ll play this season.

Murray also told Schefter that part of why he’s not on a team already is that he didn’t want to go through the rigors of the earlier portions of the offseason. He had some rehabbing to do this spring, but he noted he didn’t want to go through the likes of OTAs and other matters.

Whether you buy that or not is up to you, at the very least DeMarco’s decision-making is interesting. In fact DeMarco’s decisions are so fascinating that he may have re-shaped the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles over the last three years because of it. That’s all.

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