Yes, no, and maybe. In order, those are the answers to Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant, and whether or not Dallas should sign them to long-term agreements.
These are the decisions that must be pondered at length. Sean Lee just signed a long extension, and his oft-injured body will miss the 2014 season. Tony Romo has yet to play a down of his new deal, and he's coming off two back surgeries. DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin just left with unfilled-performance expectations left amidst expensive contracts.
Dallas has long seemed the dead-money capital of the NFL. For whatever reasons – many of them injury-related – piles of players have left here with substantial money remaining on Jerry's cap tab. You know the names; it's too depressing to type.
Of course, for the right price, Dallas would be foolish not to sign all three of these players, but agents don't ask for the right price. They ask for the max, and there's only one that you pay max money.
Tyron Smith. Yes.
Elite left tackles are among the Hope Diamonds in the NFL draft. They're rare, and they protect the rarest of rare gems, the franchise quarterback. The Cowboys have one in Smith, who looks to be on his way to years of all-pro-level performances for Romo and quarterbacks still in high school. Sign him, and back up the Brinks truck. Well worth it. Case closed.
Demarco Murray. No.
I hate what the NFL has done to running backs. They're relative afterthoughts, a dime-a-dozen, not worth building an offense around anymore. The glory days when the league featured Emmitt, Barry, Thurman, Lorenzo, Hampton, Watters, Faulk, Foster, Okoye, Butts, Davis, Means, Warren, Bettis…are pretty much over, at least for now. Yes, all those guys were playing during the same era.
Today's rules make throwing the ball virtually indefensible, and teams have resorted to high school spread offenses and read-options. Sure, a good back is a nice luxury to have, but not at supreme dollars. Money is better spent on the passing game, so unless Murray is willing to take a short-term, low-dollar deal for the security of a longer stay, Dallas should let him go. Especially with his propensity for injury. That money could be spent better in free agency at a more prominent position.
Dez Bryant. Maybe.
This is where sleepless nights lie ahead for Jerry and the personnel department.
On talent alone, of course you extend Bryant. His impact in undeniable, and his freakish talents don't grow on draft trees. He's certainly won the fan base over after a bit of a rough start to his playing career. His passion and work ethic as a player are beyond reproach, and his general attitude has been a huge breath of fresh air. Top five receiver in the league, arguably top three.
What's scary is his back. The past two seasons, Dez has had issues with his back tightening up on him during games and as the season wears on. Anyone with back issues knows that this doesn't typically get better. Already, Romo has questions about his back, and he's just a QB. The style Dez plays may not hold up with a bad back, and he could be a salary-cap nightmare if he's rendered useless with a big price tag crippling future decisions.
The best way to handle Dez may be the franchise tag. That'll be a hefty price next year, but worth it, without having to commit money beyond 2015. In fact, league rules say they could turn around and do the same thing to Dez the following year.
Might that make Dez mad? Yep, but perhaps that can provide the impetus to get him, and his agent, on board with a more incentive-laden contract with a hometown discount attached. Make sure he's comfortable and well-paid, with clauses that allow him to make more with good health and production. Logical, sensible numbers.
In fact, if he does sign such a contract, that same franchise tag could be eligible for Murray if they so desire.
Jason Garrett and Will McClay have done a good job cleaning up the roster of aged, pricey veterans that are too often not reliable week to week. The signing bonuses amassed have made it hard on Jerry to cut them loose, though he is thankfully capitulating to do just that.
It's not Jerry-like to let guys like Gurode, Ware, Miles, Newman, Barber, etc, walk away with stiff cap penalties in their wake. He's stubbornly learning – thanks to McClay and Garrett, and probably Stephen – that these players aren't his kids and friends. You gotta learn to let them go.
Far better cap positioning is still a couple of years away. That key free agent here and there will be attainable if they keep from doing anything dumb in the meantime. And that will partly be determined by how they handle Smith, Murray, and Dez.