IRVING, Texas -- DeMarco Murray turned 27 on Thursday.
Nowhere else but at running back in the NFL would that be considered old. Geriatric, even.
Even during Murray’s record-breaking season for the Dallas Cowboys, there was discussion about not paying a running back because the position has been devalued or that any runner can do what Murray did behind an offensive line that featured two All-Pros in Tyron Smith and Zack Martin and a Pro Bowler in Travis Frederick.
Two days before his 27th birthday, Murray said he was aware of all the talk.
“I’m 26 and I feel like I haven’t even entered my prime yet, so,” Murray said.
Murray becomes a free agent on March 10 if he and the Cowboys are unable to come to an agreement on a new contract. The last time the NFL’s leading rusher changed teams came in 1947 when the Pittsburgh Steelers traded Bill Dudley to the Detroit Lions.
The amount of statistical information about the drop-off by a running back after a 400-touch season has been staggering. Of the 42 cases in NFL history in which a runner combined for more than 400 carries and catches, 35 had fewer touches, 33 had fewer yards from scrimmage, 25 averaged fewer yards per touch, 25 had fewer touchdowns and 20 played in fewer games the following season.
Murray had 449 touches in 2014.
In the regular season, Murray ran for a league-leading 1,845 yards to set a franchise record. Wouldn’t it be natural to expect a drop-off the following year? He did something in franchise history that Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett never did, and he did it in a time when passing games have taken over the league. After rushing for 1,773 yards in 1995 when he was 26, Smith never eclipsed 1,400 yards again but he had four seasons with at least 1,200 yards.
It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Murray to rush for 1,845 yards again. Would 1,300 be acceptable? Or 1,400? Or 1,200? That would still put him in the top 10 in rushing each year.
On Wednesday, @ESPNNFL offered up this:
Attention teams wanting to sign DeMarco Murray. A warning from the past 2 big contracts after leading NFL in rushes. pic.twitter.com/65wwVjUhkH— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 11, 2015
It would look like another reason not to re-sign Murray.
But how about some more context.
In his first four years, Murray has 934 carries for 4,526 yards and 28 touchdowns. Shaun Alexander had 994 carries for 4,241 yards and 46 touchdowns in his first four seasons. In the next three seasons he gained 4,472 yards and scored 50 touchdowns.
Wherever Murray goes, what will matter most with the contract will be the first three years of the contract. The final length of the deal might be five or six years but to some degree that will be only window dressing for salary-cap purposes. Heck, they can stretch it out to seven years if they want.
But what will matter most are the guaranteed money and the three-year average.
Wouldn’t the Cowboys take Alexander’s three-year run from 2004-06 with Murray? Seattle’s mistake was signing Alexander to a big deal after he had 1,717 carries in his first six seasons.
Like Murray, Larry Johnson did not record a 1,000-yard season until his third season. Like Murray, he had a hard time staying healthy early, missing 16 of his first 32 games. He put up back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons in 2005 and ’06 with 752 carries before cashing in and, evidently, cashing out.
But Johnson had 11 games in which he had 30 or more carries in those years. In his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Murray had three games in which he carried it at least 30 times.
Johnson had Trent Green and Damon Huard as his quarterback, not Tony Romo. His top receiver was Eddie Kennison, not Dez Bryant. His tight end was Tony Gonzalez and the Cowboys counter with Jason Witten. Call that a push.
The balance on offense offered by the Cowboys gives Murray a better chance to succeed than Johnson.
As the Cowboys and Murray’s agent, Bill Johnson, enter into more serious discussions they should both realize they need each other. Coach Jason Garrett has stated his case for Murray, calling him the heartbeat of the team. Murray has an offensive line that is young and will only get better.
The Cowboys have searched for a physical identity on offense since Garrett took over as head coach.
Now that they've finally found it, it seems odd that so many people are ready to move on from a runner that may not have even hit his prime.
Just ask him.