2015-2016 DALLAS COWBOYS: Racing the clock with that heavy rock–The Murray age factor | Running Back options without DeMarco | Young bucks on the NFL Draft board | Free Agent RBs on the market

2015-2016 DALLAS COWBOYS: Racing the clock with a heavy rock–DeMarco Murray age factor

When Tony Romo sees DeMarco Murray, he sees an NFL rushing champion.

When Jason Garrett sees Murray, he sees an NFL rushing champion.

When agent Pat Dye sees Murray, he sees an NFL rushing champion.

When the Cowboys’ fan base sees Murray, it sees an NFL rushing champion.

But when Stephen Jones sees Murray, he sees a 27-year-old running back.

That’s because as guardian of the Dallas Cowboys salary cap, in the best interest of the franchise, Jones must focus on a player’s future, not his past. What’s his value going forward?

Murray was the league’s best running back in 2014, winning his first NFL rushing crown by almost 500 yards. A commitment to the run — and thus a commitment to Murray — propelled the Cowboys from a decade of mediocrity into Super Bowl contention.

His breakout could not have come at a better time for Murray — the final season of his rookie contract. Now he’s in a position to cash in. He can become a free agent this month.

As a third-round draft choice, Murray did not receive the big money at the front end of his career. So this will be the one time in life Murray can command top dollar for his football services. He’s looking for a long-term deal that would guarantee his security. Think five years.

That would take Murray through the 2019 season. He’ll be 31 then. And that’s the concern Jones has.

The Cowboys could have placed a franchise tag on the 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. That would have locked Murray up for the 2015 season at a premium price — $10.9 million. But they opted to franchise Dez Bryant instead.

The Cowboys would have jumped at the chance to sign Murray to a two-year contract. Even a three-year deal might be welcome. But a five-year deal? Running backs rarely get better as they get older.

The Cowboys would likely love the first year of the deal and may come to enjoy the second year, possibly even the third. But those fourth and fifth years could be regrettable.

That’s how the Cowboys got into this salary-cap mess in the first place. For years they gave big money to players heading into their 30s hoping they could stay great forever. Instead, they descended and became salary-cap hits — big salary-cap hits — waiting to happen.

Think DeMarcus Ware.

And there is less future in paying runners than pass rushers.

Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, O.J. Simpson, Floyd Little, Charles White, Eric Dickerson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James and Jamal Lewis are all former NFL rushing champions. Brown, Taylor, Simpson, Little, Dickerson and Jerome Bettis all are Hall of Famers, and there may be busts in Canton waiting for Tomlinson and James as well.

Every one of those backs rushed for 1,000 yards at the age of 29 — and none ever got back to that threshold in the remaining years of their careers.

And you can add Pro Bowlers Roger Craig, Stephen Davis, Michael Turner and Steven Jackson to the group that rushed for 1,000 at 29 but never again.

The wall for an NFL running back has historically been 29 years of age. And some of the great ones don’t even get there.

Marshall Faulk was the most complete and arguably the best running back in the NFL at the turn of the 2000 decade. He was a key element in the Greatest Show on Turf that took the St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowls. He was rewarded for his career with a bust in Canton. Faulk rushed for 1,382 yards in 2001 at age 28. He never got back to 1,000 in any of the final four seasons of his career.

Like Murray, Larry Johnson was a battering ram back for the Kansas City Chiefs during the middle of the 2000 decade. He won an AFC rushing title with 1,750 yards at age 26 in 2005, then followed with a 1,786-yard season in 2006. He played five more seasons and never got back to 1,000 in any of them.

Clinton Portis was a two-time Pro Bowler who rushed for 1,487 yards for the Washington Redskins in 2008 at age 27. Like Johnson, he never got back to 1,000 again and was done by the time he reached 30.

Some backs burst through the wall. Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett and Thurman Thomas all rushed for 1,000-yard seasons in their early 30s. All are Hall of Famers.

When you see Murray, do you see Emmitt Smith, whose greatness ended at age 32? Do you see LaDainian Tomlinson, whose greatness ended at 29? Or Marshall Faulk, whose greatness ended at 28? Or Clinton Portis, whose greatness ended at 27?

In the short term, the Cowboys want and need Murray. But there could be long-term financial ramifications for that short-term benefit. And that’s what Jones has been mulling since the end of the season.

Fiscal responsibility is a heavy burden to bear for a franchise. Jones must weigh past performance of DeMarco Murray against future projections.


RUNNING BACK OPTIONS: RBs on the roster and on the market and on the clock


On the payroll – Running backs currently on the roster:

Randle, Joseph

RB

6-0

210

23

Oklahoma State

Dunbar, Lance

RB

5-8

195

25

North Texas

Murray, DeMarco

RB

6-0

217

27

Oklahoma

On the Dallas Cowboys practice squad:

Williams, Ryan

RB

5-9

207

24

Virginia Tech

Top running back prospects eligible for 2015 NFL Draft:

RANK

PLAYER

RB RANK

SCHOOL

CLASS

HT.

WT.

PROJ

20

*Todd Gurleyclip_image001

1

Georgia

Jr

6-1

222

1

23

*Melvin Gordon

2

Wisconsin

rJr

6-1

215

1

46

Ameer Abdullah

3

Nebraska

Sr

5-9

205

2

51

*Jay Ajayi

4

Boise State

rJr

6-0

221

2

56

*Duke Johnson

5

Miami (Fla.)

Jr

5-9

207

2

61

*Tevin Colemanclip_image001[1]

6

Indiana

Jr

5-11

206

2

66

David Johnson

7

Northern Iowa

rSr

6-1

224

2-3

79

Jeremy Langford

8

Michigan State

rSr

6-0

208

2-3

85

*T.J. Yeldon

9

Alabama

Jr

6-1

226

3

89

David Cobb

10

Minnesota

Sr

5-11

229

3

102

*Mike Davis

11

South Carolina

Jr

5-9

217

3-4

119

*Javorius Allen

12

Southern California

rJr

6-0

221

3-4

129

Cameron Artis-Payne

13

Auburn

Sr

5-10

212

4

144

Terrance Magee

14

LSU

Sr

5-8

213

4-5

167

Karlos Williams

15

Florida State

Sr

6-1

230

5

175

Dominique Brown

16

Louisville

rSr

6-2

234

5

180

Malcolm Brown

17

Texas

Sr

5-11

224

5-6

185

*Matt Jones

18

Florida

Jr

6-2

231

5-6

204

Malcolm Agnew

19

Southern Illinois

Sr

5-9

205

6

220

*Josh Robinson

20

Mississippi State

rJr

5-8

217

6-7

239

*Trey Williams

21

Texas A&M

Jr

5-7

195

7

271

Michael Dyer

22

Louisville

rSr

5-8

218

7-FA

279

John Crockett

23

North Dakota State

rSr

6-0

217

7-FA

298

Marcus Murphy

24

Missouri

rSr

5-8

193

7-FA

310

Thomas Rawls

25

Central Michigan

Sr

5-9

215

7-FA

324

*Dee Hart

26

Colorado State

rJr

5-7

199

7-FA

337

Kenny Hilliard

27

LSU

Sr

6-0

226

7-FA

Free Agent running backs looking for a contract:

PLAYER (46)

POS.

AGE

FROM

TO

2014 CAP HIT

STATUS

Frank Gore

RB

31

SF

TBD

$6,450,000

UFA

C.J. Spiller

RB

27

BUF

TBD

$5,916,666

UFA

Steven Jackson

RB

31

ATL

TBD

$4,166,666

UFA

Ryan Mathews

RB

27

SD

TBD

$3,612,000

UFA

Knowshon Moreno

RB

27

MIA

TBD

$3,000,000

UFA

Reggie Bush

RB

29

DET

TBD

$2,944,444

UFA

Chris Johnson

RB

29

NYJ

TBD

$2,750,000

UFA

Mark Ingram

RB

25

NO

TBD

$2,359,875

UFA

David Wilson

RB

23

NYG

TBD

$1,823,046

UFA

Darren McFadden

RB

27

OAK

TBD

$1,718,000

UFA

DeMarco Murray

RB

27

DAL

TBD

$1,596,625

UFA

Roy Helu

RB

26

WAS

TBD

$1,548,563

UFA

Bilal Powell

RB

26

NYJ

TBD

$1,531,125

UFA

Jacquizz Rodgers

RB

25

ATL

TBD

$1,478,750

UFA

Shane Vereen

RB

25

NE

TBD

$1,101,275

UFA

Cedric Peerman

RB

28

CIN

TBD

$1,050,000

UFA

Stevan Ridley

RB

26

NE

TBD

$939,750

UFA

Peyton Hillis

RB

29

NYG

TBD

$855,000

UFA

Antone Smith

RB

29

ATL

TBD

$762,500

UFA

DuJuan Harris

RB

26

GB

TBD

$645,000

UFA

Leon Washington

RB

32

TEN

TBD

$635,000

UFA

Jonathan Dwyer

RB

25

ARI

TBD

$635,000

UFA

Justin Forsett

RB

29

BAL

TBD

$570,000

UFA

Daniel Thomas

RB

27

MIA

TBD

$569,118

UFA

Ahmad Bradshaw

RB

28

IND

TBD

$486,353

UFA

Joe McKnight

RB

26

KC

TBD

$437,000

UFA

Ronnie Brown

RB

33

SD

TBD

$402,353

UFA

Alfonso Smith

RB

28

SF

TBD

$265,588

UFA

LaMichael James

RB

25

MIA

TBD

$234,706

UFA

Chris Ogbonnaya

RB

28

NYG

TBD

$134,118

UFA

Shaun Draughn

RB

27

CLE

TBD

$134,117

UFA

Phillip Tanner

RB

26

SF

TBD

$75,882

UFA

Ben Tate

RB

26

PIT

TBD

UFA

Jordan Todman

RB

25

JAC

TBD

$645,000

RFA

Chris Polk

RB

25

PHI

TBD

$573,334

RFA

Travaris Cadet

RB

26

NO

TBD

$571,667

RFA

Bobby Rainey

RB

27

TB

TBD

$570,000

RFA

Dan Herron

RB

25

IND

TBD

$570,000

RFA

Lance Dunbar

RB

25

DAL

TBD

$570,000

RFA

Matt Asiata

RB

27

MIN

TBD

$570,000

RFA

Kory Sheets

RB

29

OAK

TBD

$525,000

RFA

Marcus Thigpen

RB

28

BUF

TBD

$167,647

RFA

Fozzy Whittaker

RB

26

CAR

TBD

$495,000

ERFA

Chase Reynolds

RB

27

STL

TBD

$495,000

ERFA

Chris Thompson

RB

24

WAS

TBD

$87,353

ERFA

Fitz Toussaint

RB

24

BAL

TBD

$74,117

ERFA

Courtesy: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/running-back/

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