IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have been careful to put it more delicately than this, but the fact remains the same: they could have kept DeMarco Murray if they had been determined to.
In the non-stop news cycle of the NFL, Murray's free agency departure feels like ancient history, though it happened just two weeks ago. Addressing the topic for the first time at the NFL's annual meetings in Phoenix, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones spoke about the decision to part ways with the All-Pro running back.
"Improving our team required us to, not only on offense have to be conservative with what we paid Murray, and I'm not talking about him or his skill or his value – I'm just talking about what we can do," he said.
Murray's eventual contract in Philadelphia wasn't exactly conservative – five years, $42 million and a $21 million guarantee. It's the third-biggest running back contract in the NFL, and it's one the Cowboys couldn't
have afforded to add to an offense that's already heavily invested in Tony Romo, Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
"We've got a cap obligation coming, but we also have got a large percentage of our available resources over the next few years going to offense, and we need to get some over to defense," Jones said.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett voiced his desire to keep Murray throughout the run-up to free agency, and his tone didn't change after the fact. Garrett said multiple times in Phoenix the Cowboys would have preferred to keep Murray. The decision not to took discipline in regard to their roster building.
"We had a number of discussions with him and with his representatives all throughout the process of free agency to try to keep him," Garrett said. "But you do get to a point, like you would with any player, where you say 'Ok, can we really keep going here? This decision will preclude us from making all these other decisions.' So we wanted to have discipline."
With Murray departing to Philadelphia, the Cowboys used that money in several lowkey places – Darren McFadden, Jasper Brinkley, Jed Collins, Ray Agnew, Andrew Gachkar and Corey White – before highlighting their free agency window with the addition of Greg Hardy.
"Frankly, with Murray we hoped that we could somehow, some way address more pressure on defense," Jones said. "We knew we were – to be realistic – were going to have to use some cap to get that done, one way or another."
What's more: free agency isn't necessarily done in Dallas. The Cowboys have remaining cap space to work with, largely thanks to that discipline.