It is the most-frequent Dallas Cowboys question on social media and radio shows these days: How will the Cowboys replace what DeMarco Murray provided last season running the ball?
The short answer is: they won’t.
But history tells us Dallas would not come close to matching 2014 in the running game this season even if Murray was still playing for the Cowboys, and it will be surprising if he ever produces anything close to last season’s numbers for the Eagles.
What DeMarco Murray did in 2014 was remarkable. He rushed for more yards (1,845) and yards per game (115.3) than Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, or any other Cowboys running back ever had in a single season. Murray was rewarded with a $42 million contract in Philadelphia, $18 million fully guaranteed in the deal.
But the numbers on-the-field detail the real price Murray paid last season. At 26-years old, his 392 carries in the regular season were the ninth-most in NFL history. The eight running backs ahead of him on that list were never the same, and averaged 831 fewer yards the following season.
But those are just the surface numbers.
The most-frequently used example of an NFL team using a running back so much that it caused the player to never be the same in his career comes from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. At 27-years old, Larry Johnson set a Chiefs franchise rushing record with 1,789 yards on an NFL-record 416 carries.
But “carries” don’t equal “touches” for a running back. You must also include Johnson’s 41 receptions in 2006. So we’re at 457 total touches in the regular season. Only, the Chiefs also made the playoffs that year. With 18 touches in Kansas City’s first round loss to the Colts, Larry Johnson had either taken a handoff or caught a football 475 times in the 2006 season. He would never again be the same player, failing to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season again his career, released by the Chiefs just three seasons later.
Back to DeMarco Murray. With 392 carries and 57 receptions, Murray’s 449 total touches in the 2014 regular season is very near the regular season workload Johnson carried in Kansas City in 2006.
But that doesn’t include the playoffs.
With 44 rushes and four receptions in two postseason games last season, Murray’s final number finishes at an astounding 497 carries and receptions in the 2014 season, 22 more than Larry Johnson’s historic (and career-dooming) 2006 season.
So, back to the original question: who in 2015 will replace what DeMarco Murray provided for the Cowboys in 2014? No one, and likely no two of the Cowboys running backs will even come close.
Not even if one of those running backs was DeMarco Murray.