Dallas will enter the offseason about $10 million under the projected $140 million salary cap. In addition to Bryant and Murray, the Cowboys have a ton of high-value free agents of their own. Bruce Carter, Anthony Spencer and Rolando McClain are all set to hit the open market.
In what promises to be an offseason where certain teams are going to be cutting the fat, Dallas doesn’t necessarily have that flexibility. By virtue of restructuring contracts in order to remain viable under the cap in previous seasons, Jerry Jones and company really can’t look to shed salaries there.
As an example, Brandon Carr is set to count $12.7 million against the cap in 2015. If the Cowboys were to release him, they would eat $12.1 million of that in dead money next season. The same goes for Henry Melton, who is set to count $9.2 million against the cap with a $9.7 million dead money hit.
Needless to say, the Cowboys are going to have their work cut out for them to even retain some of the free agents we listed above.
Of course, Dallas could go back to the well again and restructure Tony Romo’s contract.He’s set to count $27.7 million against the cap, which means the team can work around that figure by agreeing to a new deal structure that back loads a lot of it. Unfortunately, Dallas’ dead money relating to Romo’s contract is also currently at nearly $38 million. If it continues to play this game with his deal, this is going to have some major long-term salary cap ramifications.
Bryant’s franchise tag figure is set to be well over $10 million next season. So if the two sides are unable to come to an agreement on a long-term extension that would enable Dallas to back load the deal, that would give the team even less flexibility.
In deciding who to retain if the decision came down to Bryant and Murray, the Cowboys have to look at the logistics of the NFL today. Running backs are nowhere near as important as wide receivers in what has become a pass-happy league.
In Dallas, this is only magnified by the play of what has quickly become the best offensive line in the NFL. Without taking much away from Murray’s MVP-caliber performance, a lot of his success has had to do with the play of this unit.
And while someone like Joseph Randle wouldn’t necessarily have the same impact, it’s hard to believe that he would struggle behind this offensive line in 2015.
Then you have the draft. By all accounts, the 2015 version is absolutely loaded at running back. From top-tier options such as Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon to lesser-known options in the form of Duke Johnson and T.J Yeldon, the 2015 running back class is stacked.
In reality, Dallas could nab a potential starter in either the second or third round.
Then you have the open market equation. If Dallas does indeed franchise Bryant, it would have to let Murray hit the free agent market when the new league year gets going in March.
With a ton of teams lacking on the offensive side of the ball, there is a decent chance that the Cowboys could find themselves in somewhat of a bidding war for Murray, which is something that they can’t possibly win.
And despite the fact that running backs aren’t valued as much as they used to be, Murray will be the best player at this position to hit the open market in years.
You can’t honestly tell me that a team like the Oakland Raiders, who promise to have a ton of cap room, wouldn’t entertain the idea of paying Murray good money to team up with Derek Carr in the backfield. That’s only magnified by the fact that Oakland still has the capability of paying Carr rookie-contract money over the next few seasons.
In short, Jerry Jones’ admission that Dallas will franchise Bryant could also have been an indication that the team might have to move on from Murray.
Short of Bryant and the Cowboys coming to an agreement on a long-term deal, it’s extremely likely the team will have to let Murray walk in free agency.