By Matthew Postins
DeMarco Murray a Top 100 player? NFL players think so. But why does that come as such a surprise?
Murray came in No. 87 in NFL.com’s annual player survey naming the game’s Top 100 players. On a team that boasts some of the top weapons in the game, it seems the players believe Murray now rates being put in that stratosphere.
“He got a lot better (last year),” Washington linebacker Rob Jackson told the NFL Network during their Top 100 broadcast. “The more reps he got, the more carries he got, the better he got. He’s starting to see the hole and it seems the game is slowing down for him.”
Before last year many writers, including myself, wrote that 2013 was a time for Murray to prove he could handle a big workload. Yes, Murray did miss nearly two games due to injury. But I’ve made the case this offseason that Murray was the NFL’s most efficient 1,000-yard rusher of 2013. Of the 13 backs that rushed for at least 1,000 yards last year Murray needed the fewest carries to get there (217). Detroit’s Reggie Bush did it in 223 carries, but rushed for 115 yards less than Murray.
Plus, of the 13 backs that rushed for at least 1,000 yards Murray had the highest per-carry average of any of the (5.2 ypc). Only LeSean McCoy averaged at least 5 yards per carry (5.1 ypc).
None of that includes Murray’s stellar work in the passing game, where he caught 53 passes.
Murray revealed himself to be a complete back in 2013, one that could play three downs, even if he were to miss a game or two due to injury. He grew into the job the Cowboys wanted to give him. He took advantage of a better offensive line in 2013, as the addition of center Travis Frederick made a real difference to the team’s interior running. The selection of Zack Martin in the first round last month should bolster the line as well, whether the Cowboys play him at guard or tackle.
Cowboys play-caller Scott Linehan validated that last week when speaking to the media after a workout.
“This is a great young front,” Linehan told The Dallas Morning News. “It was already an offensive line that was really meshing and playing well. We don’t have to have this certain look to run the ball. We feel like we can line up and say, ‘Hey, if they’re going to drop guys into the box, we still feel like we’ve got the guys that can get it done.’ And then that helps everything. That opens everything on the outside of the field.”
So it sounds like thing are setting up for Murray to have a whale of a 2014. The Cowboys may have invested in their line to protect Tony Romo, but Murray is benefiting just as much. Therein lies the rub: Murray is a free agent in 2015.
Earlier this year I wrote about two players the Cowboys, I believe, have to re-sign when they become free agents next year. Left tackle Tyron Smith and wide receiver Dez Bryant are the type of players the Cowboys need to keep. So the question is whether Murray is that type of player in the long-term.
The Cowboys are probably reserving judgment on that until after 2014, and the reason is simple. Murray did have a great 2013, but if you’re going to invest big money in a running back in an era in which bell cow backs are nearly a thing of the past then you have to be sure what you’re getting. Another 1,000-yard season for Murray should put him in line for a solid second contract, and the way Cowboys general manager Jerry Jones likes to shell out money he won’t mind paying to keep Murray.
The real question is whether there’s enough money in the budget for Smith, Bryant and Murray in 2015? And if Murray does have another big season how will that pique the interest of other NFL teams who need a back like Murray?
All of that might conspire to keep the Cowboys from re-signing Murray in 2015 if he proves he’s more than just a one-year 1,000-yard rusher.