DeMarco Murray might have been the most productive back in the NFL in 2014. The 2011 third round pick from Oklahoma ran for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns on a robust 4.7 yard average per carry. That put him in the league lead in rushing yardage by almost 500 yards over anybody else and tied him with Marshawn Lynch for most touchdowns. He added 57 receptions for 416 receiving yards. With a complicated salary cap situation and a need to lock up Dez Bryant, the Cowboys might not be in a position to keep the free agent. Could he end up in green and white?
Much was made of the quality of Dallas' offensive line, and rightly so. The offense this season really went through Murray, though. Many know him as a speed back. His 15 carries gaining at least 20 yards put him second behind only Justin Forsett. Third place was 9. He isn't a finesse runner, though. Murray runs physically. He averaged 2.54 yards per carry after contact according to PFF. Of backs who got at least 25% of their team's carries, that rated 12th out of 42. He's also great at changing direction while maintaining top speed. Only Lynch forced more missed tackles on rushes than the 67 Murray forced. Murray has great vision and is a great fit for the zone running scheme Dallas utilizes.
Murray is a complete back. He was extraordinarily productive. Should the Jets become big bidders then? I would be more hesitant than the information I just gave you might suggest.
For starters, Murray far surpassed anything he has ever done in his career. He went for over 2,200 yards from scrimmage. In the rest of his four year career, his high was 1,471. When a player produces at a rate that much of an outlier, there is a real possibility it is a career year, and he will never approach it again. In Murray's case, it would be extremely difficult to sustain that rate for anybody. If Murray is looking to be paid like a top back based on this season, the team giving him the deal will take a substantial risk of paying for the career year and getting the decline.
The bigger issue, however, might be the manner in which he got those numbers. Between the regular season and the postseason, Murray touched the ball an incredible 497 times from scrimmage. That was an incredible pounding to put on his body. There is evidence that touching the ball 370 times has a substantial residual impact. The human body was simply not built to play running back in the NFL. The toll the hits take can make a player more likely to be injured, and steal a lot of the explosive ability. Murray did not just stop at 370. He went over one-third of the way to the next 370.
I am a big fan of the Jets upgrading their backfield, but I also think they need to be careful to not add players after another team has taken a lot of tread off the tires. Murray is one of my favorite players to watch, but I don't love the risk/reward outlook for adding him as one of the highest paid backs in the league. To take the risk, I probably would need Murray to take a lot less than he is worth.