Reports surfaced recently that all-pro running back DeMarco Murray scoffed at a recent contract offer from Dallas Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones, that would have paid him a little more than four million dollars a year over the next four years. On the surface, that sounds amazing to those of us not making that money (I’d have settled for league minimum money myself), but in comparison to some other players it doesn’t come off as the sort of money Murray was hoping for.
By the numbers, this was an insane year for Murray in virtually every way you could think of. Murray led the league in touches, carries, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and managed to break Emmitt Smith’s single-season club rushing record in the process. Plus, Murray played a full season, and has been selected for the Pro Bowl. Over the last two years, few running backs have better credentials. All of this would lead Murray and his agent to believe that he should be the highest-paid running back in the league, and of course there is logic in that train of thought.
The above is the glass half full version of events. The one that Murray and his agent are going to fixate on, when discussing a reasonable contractual rate going forward. Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin, though. Running backs last (on average) just four seasons in the NFL. Murray just came off of his fourth. While he did play a complete 16-game schedule this year, he has missed time in every other year he’s played. Were it not for the desperate need for Murray to play down the stretch, I’m sure he would have been sidelined towards the end of the regular season instead of electing to play with a broken hand. No other running back in history has carried the ball over 350 times and come back the following year to post better numbers. Murray carried the ball nearly 400 times! One other stat he led the league in was fumbles by a running back. The most critical was the one being this past weekend against the Green Bay Packers.
I used to have a Marketing Professor that would say “the right answer to most questions is: it depends.” The best example he gave was something to the effect of “if I offered you a 50 percent raise would you be happy?” The immediate response from most of the class is “yes”. “Now, what happens when you find out that the rest of the company is getting a 200 percent raise. Are you happy now?” Getting back to the four million a year let’s take a look at what some other players were making this past year. Frank Gore was making 6.45 million. He likely won’t get that in his next contract, but that’s a decent benchmark. Stephen Gostkowski was making 3.8 million as a kicker. Last time I checked a guy putting up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage was more valuable than the best kicker in the league.
As best I can ascertain Murray is looking for something that would average closer to six million a season, and the Cowboys simply can’t afford that. To be honest I was surprised they offered four. Someone will pay that for Murray, and likely get burned in the second year of the contract. Market rate is probably closer to four and a half or five, and maybe even less when you look at the litany of running backs set to become free agents. Frank Gore, Ryan Mathews, Knowshon Moreno, Mark Ingram, Darren McFadden, Roy Helu, Jacquizz Rodgers, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Justin Forsett, and Ahmad Bradshaw are among the 32 backs that are available as free agents, and that doesn’t count the hundreds of players that are potential draft picks for any team.
The last part of this equation here is how much you attribute Murray’s success to his individual play, compared to how much of it you attribute to the play of the players around him. Putting aside an offensive line that saw 60% of it’s members head to the Pro Bowl. Dallas also had a passing attack that posed a big enough threat to keep teams from constantly stacking the box. I’m sure Dallas believes that many backs could enjoy similar success given these circumstances. The strange thing is some of those backs might opt to go to Dallas for less money just for a chance to achieve a 2,000-yard season.
DeMarco Murray will likely end up signing with a team that will struggle this coming season. He will not perform as well, he may get injured, and he is likely to never win a championship. I am not saying the Dallas Cowboys are primed to win a championship, but the bones are there within the organization to continue to grow and improve. Ultimately, the offer from Jerry Jones may not seem fair, but fair is a very relative term. In a team game your success has as much to do with the people around you as it does yourself. DeMarco Murray would be well served to remember that when he decides on where he wants to play next year.