Does DeMarco Murray's workload impact his worth?

IRVING, Texas – DeMarco Murray, who is running at a record-setting pace while serving as a workhorse for a team whose record is tied for the best in the NFL, seems to be boosting his price tag practically every time he touches the ball.

The Cowboys’ front office must look at the other side of the coin as well, so to speak, as they continue the preliminary discussions with Murray’s camp about a contract extension for the NFL’s rushing leader.

The team should proceed with caution, primarily due to the 26-year-old Murray’s durability issues over the course of his career and the frightening recent history of running backs’ steep declines after heavy workload seasons.

“I think we’ll take a lot of things into account here, and everybody’s got to be understanding of the dynamics that are going on in the NFL as far as running backs are concerned,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan this week. “Nobody’s hoping and cheering more for DeMarco than me, in terms of hoping this streak continues and hoping that he continues to help carry this team. …

“It’s the full body of work at the end of the day. We’re lucky to have DeMarco, but at the same time, you mention a lot of things that that go into how ultimately you figure out how a player gets paid. We’ll be looking at all those dynamics.”

Murray, who joined Hall of Famers Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only players in NFL history to start a season with five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, is on pace to set a league rushing record with 2,144 yards. He’s also on pace to match the NFL record with 416 carries this season, a number that is reason for alarm.

Since 1990, eight running backs have had at least 385 carries in a season. In each case, their production drastically declined the next season. In several cases, the backs never regained their Pro Bowl form.

A look at those backs:

Larry Johnson

Workhorse year: At 27, Johnson set the NFL record with 416 carries, rushing for a Kansas City Chiefs-record 1,789 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006.

Aftermath: After signing what was then the largest contract in franchise history, Johnson never had another 1,000-yard season. He missed the second half of the 2006 season due to a foot injury and was released midway through the 2009 season, when he was averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. He had brief stints with three teams before his career was over.

Jamal Anderson

Workhorse year: The 26-year-old face of Atlanta’s “Dirty Birds” carried 410 times for a league-high 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1998.

Aftermath: Anderson didn’t match those numbers in the rest of his career combined. He was out of football after suffering serious knee injuries in 1999 and 2001. He rushed for 1,024 yards in 2000 but averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.

Eddie George

Workhorse year: At 27, George carried 403 times for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2000 for the Tennessee Titans.

Aftermath: George had two more 1,000-yard seasons but never averaged better than 3.4 yards per carry after that year, including a low of 3.0 in 2001. He wrapped his career up by rushing for 432 yards for the Cowboys in 2004.

Terrell Davis

Workhorse year: Davis starred on Denver’s two straight Super Bowl title teams, rushing for a league-high 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns on 392 carries as a 26-year-old in 1998.

Aftermath: Davis rushed for 1,194 yards and four touchdowns in the rest of his career, playing in only 17 games over the next three seasons before knee injuries forced him to retire.

Ricky Williams

Workhorse year: The Miami Dolphins saddled up the Texas-ex Heisman Trophy winner in two straight seasons. Williams led NFL rushers in carries (383) and yards (1,853) while scoring 16 touchdowns as a 25-year-old in 2002. His carries increased to 392 the next season, but his yards (1,372) and touchdowns (nine) dropped significantly.

Aftermath: Williams played only 13 games over the next three seasons due to suspensions for smoking marijuana. He played every game from 2008 to 2011 but had only one more 1,000-yard season.

Barry Foster

Workhorse year: At 24, Foster carried 390 times for 1,690 yards and 11 touchdowns, setting a Pittsburgh Steelers record for yardage in a season.

Aftermath: Foster missed 12 games over the next two seasons before being traded to the Carolina Panthers, who cut him when he flunked a physical. He never played another down in the NFL.

Edgerrin James

Workhorse year: At 22, James carried 387 times for a league-high 1,709 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2000 for the Indianapolis Colts.

Aftermath: James suffered a torn ACL in the sixth game of the 2001 season. He struggled in 2002, rushing for 989 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games and averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. James rebounded to post five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Jamal Lewis

Workhorse year: At 24, Lewis carried 387 times for a franchise-record 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens in 2003.

Aftermath: Lewis rushed for a total of 1,912 yards and 10 touchdowns over the next two seasons, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry in those campaigns. He had four more 1,000-yard seasons after becoming the fifth member of the 2,000-yard club but never made another Pro Bowl.

The Cowboys are well aware of this trend but are determined to keep Murray at a reasonable price. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones doesn’t want to let a Pro Bowl player walk away in his prime.

“These great players are hard to come by,” Jerry Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan.

That greatness is extremely difficult to sustain for workhorse running backs, a fact that the Cowboys must keep in mind as they discuss a contract for Murray.