IRVING, Texas– Roughly this time a week ago, it was a basketball game drawing national attention to the Cowboys.
As SMU squared off against Cincinnati last Thursday in Dallas, cameras caught Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Tony Romo taking in the action, a routine offseason activity for the two. What raised eyebrows, as well as Twitter traffic, was who they brought with them – DeMarco Murray.
Murray is set to enter free agency in just one month, which made his presence at the game a bit more of a surprised. Typically, players set to hit the open market tend to distance themselves from their current team during the course of contract negotiations.
Contrary to popular speculation, however, Murray said the invite to the game wasn't a recruiting tactic, just a friendly outing. Regardless of where he plays football in 2015, Murray said the relationships he's made with Romo, Garrett and other core teammates like Jason Witten and Dez Bryant will last beyond his time with the Cowboys.
"Hopefully it's the kindness of their heart. Those are my guys," he said. "Like I said I made it clear to everyone if I'm not here next year, Romo will be my guy, Witt will be my guy, Dez will be my guy. Jason will always be a great friend."
It's not just a basketball game, though. Ever since the Cowboys' season-ending loss to Green Bay on Jan. 11, both Romo and Garrett have gone out of their way to state Murray's case for remaining with the team.
In his season-ending press conference after that game, Garrett was emphatic about the impact that Murray had on the Cowboys' identity, not to mention their production. The devalued role of the running back position in recent years didn't seem to bother him.
"I understand that running backs aren't getting drafted in the first round and all that kind of stuff, and there's concerns about longevity with this position," he said. "But this is a great football player who made a huge impact on our team this year. He's got a lot of good years of football ahead of him."
Later in January, at the Pro Bowl, Romo told ESPN Radio that he is "consistently" badgering team owner/general manager Jerry Jones about re-signing both Murray and Bryant.
"I think everybody understands how great these guys are and how lucky we are to have them," Romo said at the time.
At the end of the day, the decision to sign any new contracts will come down to business, not team chemistry. With negotiations set to play out over the next month, though, Murray said the show of support hasn't gone unnoticed.
"That's the kind of great guys they are. Obviously just what we've been able to do here the last four years, I think they understand and I understand this team is going in the right direction," he said. "We can improve on last year. But it definitely means a lot for those guys to have my back and so we'll see what happens."