While perusing overthecap.com, I came across this article from mid-season about DeMarco Murray’s possible new contract. It’s pretty in depth, and well worth a read for the breakdown of dollars to rushing yards and probability of gaining future rushing yards. I’m never going to be a GM (I’m even a marginal fantasy one), but the methodology really jived with how I feel about most contracts. Figure out how much you can reasonably count on getting from that player, look at the market and your own ideals, and pay that. If they walk away, so be it. Sort of like Moneyball, although I can’t imagine Aaron Sorkin trying to write dialogue for Jerry Jones.
To summarize the article, based on his age DeMarco has a really good chance at a 1,200 yard season in 2015. Looking at the market for that kind of player, the fair price is around 3.5mm-4mm/season. Obviously, most important is the structure of the contract, and in this scenario, the contract is very top/front heavy. After the second season of the contract (2016), Murray could be cut with 3mm in dead money on the 2017 cap. That’s a savings of 3mm on a 2017 6mm cap number. In that scenario Dallas is only handcuffed to him for two more seasons, and can still move on from him relatively painlessly before he can even see the age of 30 on the horizon. Murray would get about 12mm guaranteed (5mm in signing bonus at 1mm/year, fully guaranteed 4mm in 2015 base salary, and partial guaranteed 2016 5.7mm guaranteed salary), with the more likely scenario being him getting almost 15mm in those two seasons. Looking at the data the author used to look at the likely future data based on runningbacks who had his production level and age in the past, and what they did in the next five seasons, it’s a good contract for both sides. Murray gets at least 90% of the amount he would get from hitting the open market, and if he performs well and is still cut after 2016, he can pick up some more guaranteed cash from another team. It’s probably not the contract he dreamed about when playing football in the school yard, but because teams are learning to not pay runningbacks for past performance it’s the new reality.
The article does leave out a salient point that I think is a principle reason the Cowboys have to stand firm at a team friendly number and be prepared to walk away, Murray’s injuries. When looking at data, the author is only looking at production projecting forward, not how many games those players played, and how often they’re likely to play the full slate of games each year. Looking at DeMarco’s past, it’s impossible to say that he’s going to play 16 games next year. There is no reason to think that 2014 was the trend instead of the outlier. When you start dividing his production by games played and then hoping to get 13 or 14 games from him, all the numbers change. I really like Murray, and selfishly wish that he was going into a contract year now. But for the person, I’m glad it worked out this way–it gives him the best chance to make the most money possible for his family. I won’t begrudge him one bit when he signs with the highest bidder. When accounting for injuries, I still think that the numbers paid to Murray on the sample contract are too high. Jerry Jones just doesn’t know what he’s going to get from him. I like the structure, and the easy out after two seasons. If this was just a runningback coming off that kind of season, I would be leading the charge for that contract. But this is a player who had never gotten close to a full season of games played until last season, and that has to be taken into account.
People may say that he was the foundation of the offense, and a big part of why the team was so successful last season. They’re not wrong. But implying that no one else could help contribute isn’t accurate either. I don’t believe that anyone can run for 1,800 yards behind this line, but I do believe that the runningbacks we have on the roster can combine for 1,200 with a healthy YPC behind this line. And the dollars saved by not retaining Murray at that price could be allocated to pass rushing or elsewhere on the defense in order to mitigate the drop in offensive production we’re likely to experience (with or without Murray). I think the running game will be crucial to our success in 2015, just like it was in 2014. But the marginal difference between the runningback(s) in 2015 versus Murray in 2014 would matter less if the defense isn’t giving up nearly as many points. I’d rather pay to improve one side of the ball over last year than chase a dream of getting closer to where we were on the other.