The Cowboys have jumped out to a 3-1 start thanks in large part to the success of DeMarco Murray, and according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link), Dallas has engaged in preliminary extension talks with the fourth-year running back, offering him a four-year deal. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the negotiations are in the infancy stages, and no agreement is imminent.
Rapoport reports that the four-year offer is worth more than any contract signed by a free agent running back during the offseason. Whether Rapoport is referring to total value, guaranteed money, or per-year salary is unclear, but in any regard, it doesn’t mean much, as RB deals were significantly depressed during the free agency period. Donald Brown inked the top running back pact in terms of total worth ($10MM), Toby Gerhart garnered the most guarantees ($3.5MM), and Chris Johnson netted the largest AAV, at $4MM. Given Murray’s age, talent level, and current production, he would certainly top all three of of those figures should he sign an extension.
Murray, 26, was a third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2011. After dealing with injuries for much of his first two years in the league, he managed to stay healthy for 14 games in 2013, totaling 1,191 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns; he added 53 receptions for 350 yards. So far this season, Murray leads the league 534 rushing yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He is first among running backs in both DVOA and DYAR, and is second only to Ahmad Bradshaw according to Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required).
Murray’s 2014 production surely warrants some sort of fresh contract, but there are several factors that could make the Cowboys wary of handing him an exorbitant salary. First, RBs simply aren’t earning the type of cash they used to, no matter their talent. Second, Murray has a lengthy injury history; he’s on pace for nearly 400 carries this season, a figure that could give Dallas pause. Finally, the Cowboys have assembled one of the finest offensive lines in the NFL, which could lead them to wonder if any runner with a modicum of ability could be successful behind their front five.
Playing under the final year of his rookie contract, Murray is earning $1.406MM in base salary this season. It’s hard to imagine Murray settling for a contract worth less than Matt Forte‘s four-year, $30.4MM ($13.8MM guaranteed) extension. Forte was the same age as Murray at the time, and had accrued similar statistics; given that that deal was signed more than two years ago, Murray could conceivably ask for even more. Regardless, it seems likely a new pact would place Murray among the top-five RBs in terms of total value, guarantees, and AAV.
Of course, if an extension is not agreed to, the Cowboys could slap Murray with the franchise tag. In 2014, the running back franchise tag figure was $9.54MM. Dallas could also choose to let Murray hit free agency, where he would top a FA RB class that includes Frank Gore, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley. That’s quite a few talented players, and even though running backs are earning a pittance compared to other positions, teams might refuse to offer Murray much cash with so many other options available. Combine that fact with Murray’s injury history, and it might behoove him to accept the Cowboys offer.