During the Spring of 2015 the Dallas Cowboys faced what most considered a difficult decision.
Following an unexpectedly successful 12-4 season in which the Cowboys won just their second playoff game since 1996, two of the team’s main offensive weapons were set to hit free agency.
On one hand was wide receiver Dez Bryant, coming off of a career year and widely considered a top wide out in this talent-rich league. On the other hand was running back DeMarco Murray, also coming off of a career year in which he led the NFL in rushing yards.
Could the Cowboys afford to pay the somewhat aging running back in this NFL economy? Could they place a premier price tag on a wide receiver despite their run-first, ball control mentality?
Of course, this wasn’t exactly an either/or situation, but the Cowboys did re-sign Bryant to a lucrative deal and allowed Murray to walk to Philadelphia.
Now Fast forward to 2018.
Neither Murray nor Bryant are on the Cowboys, Tony Romo is broadcasting for CBS, and Dallas has spent a top five overall pick on replacing Murray at running back.
DeMarco Murray announced his retirement from football last week, making much of Cowboys Nation (including myself) think back upon those Romo-era teams.
And it’s really hard not to wonder, where would the Cowboys have gone if they decided to keep DeMarco Murray? Where would they be had they re-signed Murray, rather than spending a premium pick on Ezekiel Elliott a year later.
If we’re being honest, Elliott is a much more dynamic runner than Murray ever was. He brings more explosion and reliability to the offense, and is arguably the best back in football. Even when Murray was the league’s leading rusher, this really couldn’t be said about him.
There’s not much of a chance that DeMarco Murray would still be a productive RB1 in Dallas heading into 2018. His play significantly dropped over the years in Tennessee, even behind their solid offensive line.
Of course the value of the running back position has been devalued as of late, making the Cowboys selection of Elliott a questionable one to some around the league. Paying the league’s leading rusher what they would’ve had to pay him back in 2015, however, would have been even more questionable.
Plus, the Cowboys were able to replace much of Murray’s production in 2015 with Darren McFadden, even if the team didn’t win nearly as many games.
There might be an alternative universe out there where Tennessee’s Murray and Derrick Henry-led backfield existed in Dallas, but Cowboys fans are certainly not upset about having Ezekiel Elliott in a Cowboys uniform.
Even if it took them a top five pick to seal the deal.