INDIANAPOLIS – For months now, the discussion has centered on finding a number that both DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys could agree on to keep him in Dallas.
Speaking from his nearly-snowbound bus this weekend, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said it's a much more fluid process trying to keep the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year in place.
"I don't see a number. I see a range," Jones said. "That's not uncommon … In a legitimate negotiation you usually have both of them thinking ranges. You have both of them in brackets. You have both of them thinking brackets and within the parameters how you get a deal done."
That leaves some room for interpretation about how willing the Cowboys are to give Murray a big payday. Coming off an 1,845-yard season that saw him earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in addition to the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, Murray has every right to expect top dollar.
With negotiations sure to play out over the next month, Jones didn't want to tip his hand with exact figures, but his comments have to lend some optimistic about Murray remaining a Cowboy.
"We want DeMarco enough that I've got some serious flexibility in my bracket," he said.
It seems unlikely that Murray would agree to a new contract before the start of free agency on March 10. As one of the NFL's most high-profile free agents, he might be able to secure a deal that even Jones' flexibility can't compete with. His own comments seem to indicate that, given their salary cap space, there is a limit on what the Cowboys can do.
"There's no question that Murray is an outstanding football player in my mind," Jones said. "Our wish is to work something out and we're going to strive to do that to the extent that we can."
Only time is going to tell where Murray plays out his next contract, but in the meantime, Jones did offer some interesting insight about his ground game in 2015 – don't expect it to change. The Cowboys finished with the No. 2 rushing offense in the league, totaling 2,354 yards on the year. That proficiency didn't just help Tony Romo and the offense, it took a lot of pressure of the defense, which is something Jones would like to see again.
"The type of offense we had last year, using the clock, does make a big difference on our defense. We will not change that at all, as far as our emphasis on the running game," he said.
That's easier said than done if Murray is playing elsewhere. Perhaps the Cowboys will sign a free agent running back, or maybe they'll allocate draft picks to the position.
It creates plenty of talking points going forward – especially combined with the contract talks surrounding Dez Bryant. As troubling as it might be, though, Jones was quick to point out the beneficial nature of the problem.
"I really, in a strange way, feel great to have this problem. It's great," he said. "Now, from a practical standpoint, would I like to have him signed for three, four, five more years? Yes. But it's great to be dealing with two players here, and I put them both, that had the kind of seasons they had and impacted our team."