IRVING, Texas – Before Joseph Randle made his way into a single police report this offseason, you should already have been bracing for a drop-off at the running back position if DeMarco Murray left town.
I don't think it has ever been accurate to say that Randle could adequately replicate Murray's record-setting form from 2014. Rather, Randle and some assistance – perhaps Ryan Williams, perhaps a free agent or a draft pick – could provide a cheaper alternative to the salary Murray would command.
That approach would be less expensive, which would be a fair trade for parting ways with the production provided by an All-Pro.
Now that situation looks even more tenuous. Murray is a highly-coveted unrestricted free agent, and Lance Dunbar is a restricted free agent. We have no idea what's going to happen to Randle – both in a legal sense and in regard to his roster spot. As of right now, the only running back we know will be on the roster in July is Ryan Williams, who hasn't taken a meaningful carry since 2012 and who has yet to play a regular season game for the Cowboys.
Before Wednesday's news broke, my opinion was that this team ought to save some money by letting Murray walk, adding an inexpensive running back and rolling with a trio of Randle, Williams and the newcomer.
Even if Randle remains with the team, I feel much less confident about that approach than I did earlier this week. The most experienced guy in this system has had two legal issues in the past four months, while the two backs behind him would have next to nothing in the way of experience – particularly if the Cowboys are forced to rely heavily on a rookie running back.
If Randle winds up leaving the roster as a result of all of this, then the situation looks even bleaker. The Cowboys could potentially be forced to both add a free agent running back and draft a new one to help replace the snaps lost. That's a lot of resources to invest in addressing the position.
Now, I'm still not sure that means you pay Murray $8 million a year. It's not a move this roster can particularly afford, and it's one that could potentially wreck this team if Murray doesn't hold up. It'll certainly hinder them from doing much to upgrade other parts of their roster.
But this certainly makes me a little more willing to play ball with Murray. We've seen him carry the load, virtually all on his own. The one big variable with Murray is his health, whereas you're dealing with three or more big question marks when you imagine a future without him – including whether Randle will even be part of it.
If I had to guess, my gut opinion is that this isn't going to affect Randle's long-term future with the team. But it's enough to make me second-guess the right course of action for the running back position.