The similarities between Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray couldn’t be more uniquely different. Both are pro-bowl players who were set to be unrestricted free agents for the Dallas Cowboys. Both achieved individual statistics that set them apart from their peers at their respective positions. Both were embattled with team owner and general manager Jerry Jones. There are various concerns about both that would prevent the team from shelling out the contract length, or the money, that either player is seeking.
But these factors are situational more than substantial. Bryant and Murray couldn’t be more different in terms of where they play, how they play, and the mitigating circumstances that surround why neither were signed. What this situation does do is provide a perfect storm of examples of issues that impact a player’s salary and contract in the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL. I’ll attempt to break down the pros and cons of both player’s salary, contract length, off the field issues, on the field issues, future production, team contribution, extenuating circumstances, and how these are effecting the negotiation process.
In terms of the length of a contract, a wide receiver (Bryant) and a running back (Murray) have very different expectations as they enter their 30’s. Murray wasn’t being unrealistic with his contract length expectations. Four years is about the maximum any team would give him. At 27 and coming off of the most laborious season of his career there is historical evidence to say that Murray’s production will suffer. Four years was the contract offer on the table from the Cowboys already, and I can’t see anyone offering more. Bryant is virtually the same age at 26, but for a wide receiver the wear and tear isn’t the same. The production is expected to be consistently good for at least the next six years. So Bryant wants a contract that spans something in that neighborhood, with a fair chunk of the money guaranteed. The character issues of Bryant do also come into play regarding how confident you feel moving forward in terms of years and guaranteed money.
Contract cash is a larger sticking point for Murray than it is Bryant. I believe that most teams are willing to eat the $13 million a season that Bryant would be due as a franchise-tagged player and a top five wide receiver. The game is so pass-oriented now, and the rules are slanted to help passing be the premier form of attack in the NFL. For Murray, there is general consensus that the value of the running back is diminishing. There is also a brain trust that argues that most of Murray’s production was not the result of superior talent as part of his own person so much as it was the talent of his offensive line. The current offer from the Cowboys was just over $4 million a season, and I’m sure DeMarco is seeking closer to $6 million. There may be a team out there willing to pay this, but there are other (more cost effective) options available as well.
Off the field issues aren’t present for DeMarco. Murray has been the perfect player off the field, there are zero concerns in Dallas about him, and there would be zero concerns anywhere else he decided to play. Bryant on the other hand is constantly having brushes with the law. No charges to date, but the pattern would worry you as an employer, especially with the new league conduct policies. Paying a player huge money is OK when they are on the field producing. When they are suspended and unable to participate it’s difficult to stomach the salary. These issues have been cited as the main reason the Cowboys are not willing to put a longer contract with more guaranteed money on the table for Bryant at this time. Bryant suggests he’s been purposefully targeted as a result to lower his salary regardless of where he plays.
On the field neither player is perfect, but they both do excel at their positions to varying degrees with some minor flaws. Murray was the league leader in fumbles for running backs. That is a true playing issue. It’s an aspect of his game that has people questioning his value. Bryant on the actual playing surface is beyond reproach; even his blocking is elite for his position. There is do doubt about Bryant’s fight and willingness to win, but the breakdowns on the sidelines when he is frustrated may adversely impact the players around him, and that is a concern. Both players hurt their leverage with these issues, and while both are correctable the fumbling is more easily rectified than demeanor is changed.
When looking at the draft and the free agents available, it appears as though Bryant should have more leverage. A number of big name players are free agents at the running back spot, and this years draft class is supposed to offer a bevy of young running back talent. The draft class of wide receivers doesn’t seem to be as certain and the number of top-flight wide receivers making a move is just as small. There also isn’t the element of “success by system” to made concerning the skill level of Bryant. While some people say that the offensive line was the main reason for DeMarco Murray’s success, no one is saying that Tony Romo was the reason Dez Bryant put up the numbers he did. Bryant’s achievements were a result of him making spectacular plays. Murray seems to be held in the light of simply taking what his line was giving him.
So what does this all mean? Well, for starters, Dez Bryant received the franchise tag. He will be paid close to $13 million for this season and during which time the team and Dez’s agent will try to find some common ground for a contract going forward. DeMarco Murray will become a free agent. The Cowboys won’t be willing to spend what Murray would like, and Murray won’t be willing to short-change himself out of millions of dollars in salary. It all makes perfect sense, and yet none of it makes good sense.
Murray would be better suited to take the slight pay cut and play in the best situation possible, rather than heading somewhere else and being asked to shoulder such a heavy load as he did this season. Bryant would be well served to recognize his character issues are a concern, and either accept a shorter term deal (knowing that continued play at this level would mean an even higher paycheck the next time he’s a free agent) or take a long-term deal with less money guaranteed. I imagine he could get a seven-year contract if he took the equivalent of two years of it guaranteed.
Jerry Jones was battling the prospect of losing one or both superstars that saw his club climb out of mediocrity for the first time in nearly five years. To take a step back at this point would be crushing to the Dallas fan base and would earmark the success last year as a fluke, rather than a step in the right direction. Fortunately for Jerry the Cowboys brand will endure, no matter how many bad decisions are made. For Bryant and Murray, they have to make sure that their own personal brand continues to build upon the success from last season. Only time will tell if the best place for them to do that is in Dallas, but I feel as if they are in better shape with a team that knows and understands them than they are with a new squad for the 2015 season.