After having their best season in seven years, the Dallas Cowboys have been saddled with the task of replacing their most productive player. DeMarco Murray is headed to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the NFC East Champs need a new starting running back.
The Cowboys indicated that they wanted Murray to return in 2015, but they were unwilling to pay him like an elite running back. Murray’s contract is reportedly worth $42 million over five years, with $21 million guaranteed. According to ESPN’s Ed Werder, the Cowboys offered Murray approximately $6 million per season.
Dallas hasn’t handed out any lucrative contracts this season. They decided not to sign Dez Bryant to an extension, using the franchise tag on their top wide receiver.
Murray was the best free agent running back, and Dallas won’t be able to find a replacement that can equal his success. But they do have a few options in their attempt to keep a strong running game.
Dallas has shown that they won’t overpay a running back. The Cowboys had a top offensive line in 2014, and it appears they believe a cheaper option will have the ability to produce impressive numbers. A handful of free agents stand out as potential starting running backs for Dallas, but none have proven that they can carry the full load on a consistent basis.
Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller might be the most talented free agent running backs available. Bush averaged over 1,000 yards per season from 2011-2013, but he was injured for much of last year, and he’s recorded over 157 carries just three times in his career. Spiller totaled 2,177 rushing yards in 2012 and 2013, but his career-high for carries in one season is 185 attempts short of what Murray registered in 2014. The Cowboys might be interested in Spiller, but only at the right price.
Running backs like DeAngelo Williams, Pierre Thomas and Darren McFadden are all looking for new teams, but none of them have rushed for 1,000 yards in any of the last four seasons. Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards in 2013, but it was the only time in four years that he’s played more than half of the season. Chris Johnson never failed to rush for less than 1,077 yards from 2008-2013, but he appears to be past his prime.
There’s been speculation that the Cowboys will try to land Adrian Peterson, and there have been reports that the running back wants to play for Dallas. While it might be ideal for the Cowboys to acquire Peterson, his contract might not make it a realistic possibility.
Peterson might not want to play for the Vikings in 2015, but it wouldn’t make sense for Minnesota to simply release him. Even if the two teams could agree to a trade, it’s not likely that Dallas would be willing to pay Peterson what he’s owed on his current contract. Peterson is set to make $12.75 million next season, twice what the Cowboys reportedly offered Murray. In 2015 and 2016, he’ll make more than $30 million.
The Cowboys best and most likely scenario might be to draft a running back with their first pick. Dallas has the No.27 pick in the first round, and they could select Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Behind Dallas’ offensive line, either running back has a chance to put up big numbers, and they would come at a much cheaper price than Murray or other free agent options. The Cowboys’ top pick is projected to have a 2015 cap hit of just more than $1.4 million.
Gordon was the best running back in all of college football last year, rushing for 2,587 yards on 7.5 yards per carry. A suspension kept Gurley out for most of the season, but he ran for 911 yards in the six games that he played.
If Dallas decides to draft a running back with one of their top picks, it wouldn’t preclude them from signing a veteran to a cheap contract. Backup running back Joseph Randle is still with the team, as well, having rushed for 343 yards on 6.7 yards per carry last season.