Big decision looms in Big D
By LIAM BEVANS
College Contributor Network
The wound is still fresh. The contempt still lingers. Yet, the time has come for the Dallas Cowboys to move on from their heart-wrenching loss at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. A team which soared above preseason expectations due to their newfound power-running attack and overachieving defense must now turn the page to the offseason. And with their starting running back, top wide receiver, starting mike linebacker, and both right tackles all set to hit free agency...oh, what an offseason it will be for the Cowboys. So the question looms, who does Jerry Jones make the top priority this offseason?
Making a case for Dez Bryant is certainly not difficult. His 1,320 receiving yards accounted for nearly 33% of the Dallas air attack this season, despite garnering the top defensive assignment week in and week out. He led the team with 16 receiving touchdowns, which also tied the team total for rushing scores on the season. His 82.5 receiving yards per game nearly doubled the second-best total of the team, Tony Romo's security blanket, Jason Witten. His knack for the explosive play adds an element to the Cowboy offense which no one else can. Quite simply he's one of the best receivers in all of football. Yet Bryant, working off of his $11,810,500 rookie contract, is only the 58th-highest-paid wide receiver in the league. Judging from recent contracts given to Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, Bryant will be making more per year in this second contract than he did in the entirety of his first five years in the league. Whatever the final numbers end up being, it is certain that re-signing Bryant is going to be an enormous cap hit to the Cowboys.
The Cowboys running back, however, also played exceptional football this season. Demarco Murray had a career year carrying the rock in 2014. Murray dominated the competition this season, leading the league in rushing by nearly 500 yards over Le'Veon Bell. Although he did lose five fumbles during the regular season, and one costly fumble in the postseason, all of those regular-season fumbles happened in Week 8 or earlier. He continuously wore defenses down with his power running, often appearing to get stronger as the game entered the final quarter. Similar to Bryant, Murray is the 59th-highest-paid running back in the league. After the career year Murray just had, he will most likely be looking at a contract that pays him just under 10 million dollars a year, putting him in between Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy.
The Cowboys have the flexibility and the money to resign both players and they certainly realize the importance of each player to their system. Bryant is able to erase mistakes made by Romo with his freakish talents, and Murray takes the load off of Romo's shoulders by moving the ball at a clip of 4.7 yards per carry. But will Jones pull the trigger?
The decision might just come down to the other free agents on the Cowboys' roster. Jones will most likely make Bryant the priority, talents like his are rarely found and he is tailor-made for today's NFL. As for Murray, the money might not come until after other positions of need have been filled. The Cowboys need to assess Sean Lee and his torn ACL before deciding whether to commit a large sum of money to Rolando McClain, a player they salvaged from the NFL garbage heap. McClain had a huge hand in the overachieving of this year's defense, proving that he may still have a future in this league. The offensive line, which dominated, will also need to be evaluated. Both RT Doug Free and his backup Jermey Parnell are also set to hit the market. Jones will have to decide whether to let the injury prone Free walk, or resign him for what will not be a bargain basement price.
"But if you just looked at it from dollars and cents, it probably doesn't look reasonable. You have to figure out how you get there, but at the end of the day you realize it's going to be costly to have both of those players." - Jerry Jones
In the end, the evolution of the league might be what eventually sends Murray packing from Dallas. Running backs are no longer the hot commodity in the NFL streets, the perceived value of the position has taken a dip recently. Evidence for this claim can be seen at the NFL Draft, when no back was taken until Bishop Sankey with the 54th pick. It will be difficult for Jones to justify giving Murray a top contract if that means sacrificing on the offensive line, the unit which anchored the entire offense this season. Therefore, don't be surprised to see a new feature back donning a star on their helmet next year. That's just the nature of the game.
Liam Bevans is a graduate student at Boston College. He has spent the last six years working for the BC football team both as a student and as an intern. Follow him on twitter: @liham_andcheese