Editor's Note: Since the start of free agency on March 10, the Cowboys have seen a few players leave, but have been active in trying to fill those voids, along with others. This week, DallasCowboys.com will take a closer look at the comings and goings for the Cowboys here in free agency. Today, we will start off with the running back position.
IRVING, Texas – Even in today's NFL, what we witnessed when DeMarco Murray signed with the Eagles was unprecedented.
It's rare enough to see a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro change teams, much less the NFL's rushing leader. To top that, the league's Offensive Player of the Year has a new home in 2015, making the Murray move even more surreal in what has become a league that sees plenty of star players changing uniforms.
But the Cowboys obviously had a plan – and a price – for Murray, who signed a five-year, $42 million deal with rival Philadelphia, paying him $18 million guaranteed with an average of $8.5 million per season.
That was way too steep for a Cowboys team that has plenty of hefty contracts in place already, especially after issuing the franchise tag to Dez Bryant, worth $12.8 million.
So will the Cowboys miss Murray? Obviously time will tell, but let's dive in a little deeper on what the team has lost, and what it found at the position, including the signing of veteran Darren McFadden, who joined the Cowboys one day after Murray left for Philly.
What They've Done:
Although playing in three fewer years than McFadden, Murray has more accomplishments on the field, even if you throw out the expectations. Murray was a third-round pick while McFadden was the NFL's fourth overall selection in 2008. While Murray has rushed for over 1,000 yards just twice in his career, it still exceeds the lone 1,000-yard season McFadden has garnered in seven seasons. Winner of the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award after a record-setting effort in 2014, Murray enjoyed the best season in Cowboys' history for a running back, totaling 1,845 yards, surpassing Emmitt Smith's single-season record (1,773 yards set in 1995). McFadden's best season was 1,157 yards in 2010 and has yet to make a Pro Bowl.
What They're Worth:
The Cowboys wanted to pay Murray in the range of about $6 million per season and came nowhere close to matching the lucrative offer the Eagles gave him a few days in the free-agent signing period. Murray's deal is a legitimate five-year contract, where he counts $5 million on the Eagles' cap in 2015, and $9 million in each of the last four seasons. In comparison, Murray's $3 million roster bonus the Eagles gave him for the 2015 season alone, equals the overall money McFadden could earn in his two seasons with the Cowboys, who waited less than 24 hours before signing McFadden to a two-year, $3-million contract with only $200,000 guaranteed. That's quite a contrast to the $18 million the Eagles guaranteed to pay for Murray. Even with Murray's proven production, the Cowboys have a shot to get much more value in the route they chose.
How They Fit:
It's obviously a little early to see how McFadden will fit with the Cowboys, especially after seven years in Oakland that only netted one 1,000-yard season. But the only reason they're comfortable in letting Murray walk is the confidence they have in the offensive line that has been built. That alone has them excited about the possibilities for McFadden and any other back that runs behind this unit. McFadden is a downhill runner that
has more explosion than Murray. He's also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and if by chance another back is drafted to beat him out, McFadden has the track record (and contract) to be a change-of-pace back and possible kick returner. But that's the difference right there. If signed, Murray would be the No. 1 back and it's unlikely the Cowboys would've spent a high pick on a tailback. Murray's tough, grinding style was perfect for the Cowboys' offense and it won't be easy for any player to duplicate.
The Cowboys are getting a relatively free look at a player that was once considered the most dynamic player in college football, having finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy two straight years. But that was over eight years ago and he hasn't consistently shown that production, regardless of what kind of talent he's been surrounded by. The Cowboys simply couldn't justify spending three first-round picks to strengthen this offensive line, and then pay that top-shelf money on a running back that suddenly had a career year after playing behind this group of Pro Bowlers. If the Cowboys can get McFadden to provide anything close to Murray's production, it'll be the biggest win of the season. But who is to say the Cowboys aren't still looking for Murray's real replacement. Whether or not McFadden is just a placeholder, he's a cheap one with a strong upside.