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If Cowboys let DeMarco Murray walk, it will be by choice

IRVING, Texas -- In one breath, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones says his team can be players in free agency. In the next, he says it will be a challenge for the Cowboys to keep Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray.

If the Cowboys can be players in free agency, why can’t they keep Bryant and Murray?

Well, they can.

If they don’t, that will be because the Cowboys chose not to.

The Cowboys can do anything they want in free agency. Cap space will not be an issue.

“We want to be active,” Jones said of free agency. “I think the word really is attentive because we won’t be active if the player is out of kilter with what we can afford or out of kilter with what his number is relative to what he can do for us. So, it just is going to depend. What the good news is, we’re in a lot better shape under the cap than we’ve been at any time over the last two or three years. That’s good. And my hat is off to Stephen [Jones]. My hat’s off to the staff there.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys are under the projected 2015 cap by roughly $1.1 million. Other sites have the Cowboys with more room under the projected cap. Regardless, with a few swipes of a pen, the Cowboys can create about $45 million in cap space.

That doesn’t mean they will or want to create all that room. It just means they can.

Doug Free's and Henry Melton's deals will come off the cap once Free's deal voids and once the Cowboys don’t pick up Melton’s $9 million option. That creates $15.5 million in space. If the Cowboys designate cornerback Brandon Carr a post-June 1 cut, that creates $8 million in space. If the Cowboys get Carr to take a pay cut then that will save them room as well but not $8 million. The Cowboys can create about $8 million in room by restructuring Tyron Smith's deal

They could also create up to $12.8 million by restructuring the contract of quarterback Tony Romo, but that is not the foregone conclusion many believe it to be. By restructuring Romo’s contract, that would impact future cap space

So the Cowboys can sign Murray and Bryant. That’s not the issue. The math can work.

It’s more about if they believe the position is worth the dollars. History tells you a running back's production dips after the type of season Murray had in 2014. History tells you once running backs hit a certain age, they don’t have a rebirth. History tells the Cowboys the seven-year, $45 million deal that included $16 million to Marion Barber in 2008 was a major mistake.

The choice to sign Murray would be easier if the Cowboys can get Bryant signed to a long-term deal instead of having to use the franchise tag on the Pro Bowl wide receiver. Bryant’s cap number would be lower with a long-term deal than under the franchise tag, thus freeing up cap dollars for Murray.

This is where the battle between what the Cowboys' front office would like and what Jason Garrett wants will be so interesting this offseason. On Tuesday, Garrett spoke about Murray in reverential terms. On Thursday Jones attempted to set the bar low on keeping Murray.

The front office would like Murray. Garrett wants Murray. That’s a big difference.