The Dallas Cowboys performed much better than anyone would have guessed this year, finishing the season at 12-4, which was good enough to win the NFC East title and a earn a playoff berth.
Despite their exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round, many believe Dallas has the makings of a contender team in the NFC east for years to come. The key to making the Cowboys a perennial contender? Figuring out how to sign two of the league’s best skill players to new contracts.
Both Dez Bryant, who has emerged as one of the league’s best receivers, and DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014, will be free-agents this offseason after completing their rookie contracts. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has expressed his desire to sign the pair to long-term contracts to remain with the team but admits the task will take some creativity and compromise from both sides.
The Cowboys have the cap room to play with that would allow them to sign both Bryant and Murray, but would like to avoid topping out the NFL maximum salary cap as they have in recent seasons. “It’s going to be a challenge,” said Jones. “Is it financially reasonable? No. Is it possible? Yes.”
Bryant’s contract appears to take precedence over Murray’s as he leads the NFL with 16 touchdowns and tallied over 1,200 yards receiving for the second year in a row. If the two parties are unable to come to a long-term agreement, Jones is likely to use the franchise tag which will give Bryant a salary of $15 million for 2015.
Murray’s deal could become a bit more complex as he totaled 392 rush attempts during the year, which is the most in the NFL this season. Signing a running back who endures that type of wear and tear to a big dollar contract can be risky, as Jones is likely to not want to get stuck with a declining player who accounts for a large part of the salary cap. Running backs have also become a commodity in the more pass-focused NFL playing style, making their contracts even more risky.
Using the franchise tag on Bryant to delay his long-term deal by a year could allow Jones to focus on Murray’s contract this year instead of having to juggle both. Jones also ruled out restructuring quarterback Tony Romo’s deal which will count towards $27 million on their 2015 salary cap.
Jones and the rest of the Dallas organization should be worried and should make sorting the situation out a priority. It’s been a long time since the Cowboys have seen the success they did in the 2014 season and it will be hard to duplicate without the help of both Bryant and Murray going forward.