The news officially broke Monday, but I would hardly call it show-stopping "BREAKING NEWS."
Keeping Dez was an absolute must. There is no debating that. But the MVP of the 2014 Cowboys was DeMarco Murray. He was, after all, the 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. And he deserved it, being truly dominant. If the Cowboys are going to make a run in 2015, they need Murray to be the MVP of the team once again. Dallas needs to lock him up.
All sides know this, right? Or maybe they don't.
Slim chance? I don't like the sound of that. Allow me to dig deeper to explain why continuing this relationship is undoubtedly in everyone's best interest. Bear with me here, as this is a rather interesting case on many levels ...
First of all, Dez Bryant was always going to get the franchise tag -- a move that essentially represents the Cowboys buying more time. Bryant's truly a special player, albeit one with some questions off the field. Mr. Rapoport reported on Dallas' concerns about Bryant during a November installment of "NFL GameDay Morning" -- and he provided additional insight on the matter last week. But let's be honest: Nobody knows more about Bryant -- the good and bad, the majestic and problematic -- than the Cowboys. And they want Bryant and his unique talent on their team. He means too much for Tony Romo. Thus, I completely agree with Monday's move to make sure he will be part of the 2015 Cowboys. The hesitation, perhaps, is with regard to a long-term deal. The franchise tag gives Dallas the flexibility to either eventually iron out a multi-year pact or deal with Dez on a "pay as we go" plan.
Sure, the NFL has become a passing league. I know this. It's true. But you also still need to run in a physical fashion to win. Eight of the 12 playoff teams this past season ranked in the top half of the league in rushing, with five inhabiting top-eight slots. Consistently running the football matters. Look at the Seattle Seahawks, who have ranked in the top four in rushing yards in each of the past three seasons. And don't overlook how much the reacquisition of LeGarrette Blount boosted the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
I know some skeptics worry about his age and/or injury history. I hear that, but I disagree with it.
Murray, who just turned 27 last month, has only been in the NFL for four years. He was 23 in his first NFL season. It's not like he entered the league at 21 and immediately logged a full workload or was the bell-cow back for Dallas. Murray actually doesn't have all that much wear-and-tear on his proverbial tires. Yes, last season Murray logged a whopping 497 total touches. But from 2011 to '13, he averaged just 219 touches per year. This is not a worn-down runner entering the back nine of his career.
The doubters dwell on Murray's injury history, but what exactly does that entail? In 2011, Murray broke his ankle. Then a pair of sprains (foot in 2012, knee in '13) hampered him over the next two seasons. Those seem like random injuries to me -- it's not like this is a running back who's suffered from chronic or catastrophic injuries to a knee or Achilles or hammy.
Cowboys COO Stephen Jones came on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," midway through last season and said Dallas needed to limit Murray's carries. Well, Murray kept running and Dallas kept winning.
And what can't be understated is the amazing domino effect he had on Tony Romo. It was hardly a coincidence that Romo enjoyed the best and most efficient year of his career during Murray's monster season. Jason Garrett's Cowboys were always too pass-happy to win enough games to make the playoffs. Finally, Dallas gave Murray an opportunity to let his talent fully shine, and in return, the team got January football. The Cowboys flourished with a run-first, balanced plan that benefited Romo and kept the Dallas defense off the field, as well.
And yes, the Cowboys' offensive line turned out to be the NFL's best last season. I voted for three of the unit's starters on my first-team All-Pro ballot -- they were that good. The O-line deserves major credit for the success of Murray, Romo and the team as a whole.
Which came first: the great offensive line or Murray's dominance? Does the line help Murray? Absolutely. Can any running back be successful behind it? Maybe. Maybe not. Why would the Cowboys, with the clock ticking on a soon-to-be-35 Romo, want to risk finding out?
But the Cowboys aren't the only party here that should avoid trying something new: Murray's in the same boat. Yes, the former third-round pick is in line for a serious salary bump in his first foray into free agency. Other teams might be able to offer him more money than Dallas, but can they offer him such a quality offensive line? Absolutely not. Can they offer him the opportunity to win and make more money off the field? Probably not. There is cachet to being DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys running back.
The Adrian Peterson possibility hangs over this negotiation. But there are major questions about Peterson. Will he stay in Minnesota? Will the Cowboys be able to offer Peterson, if available, what he wants to get paid? Does Peterson bring negative publicity? Oh, and in addition to all that, Peterson is three years older than Murray, with more than twice as many total touches under his belt. Would you take that trade-off? Seems like the kind of move that could carry substantial risk.
The Cowboys made the right move on Monday: giving Bryant the franchise tag. Honestly, that was the only move. Now they should follow that up with another no-brainer: locking up Murray.