Yes, the Cowboys are very confident running back DeMarco Murray will give them a chance to come close to the best offer he finds on the open market. But they’re prepared, in the event they’re wrong.
Per multiple league sources, the Cowboys will consider adding former Bills running back C.J. Spiller, if Murray leaves. (In a Wednesday appearance on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, Spiller said it’s safe to refer to him as “former” Bills running back.)
Spiller, a friend of PFT (bias acknowledged), presents an interesting candidate in a market that has created a huge gulf between aging workhorses ($10 million plus per year for LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, and Adrian Peterson) and interchangeable journeyman ($3.5 million or so per year). In the wake of a report that Spiller passed on $4.5 million per year from the Bills, one source said it was more like $4.5 million the first year, $5 million the second, and more than $6 million the third. (It’s not known how much of that was fully guaranteed; if the last year wasn’t, it could have been whatever number the Bills wanted to put in there, from $6 million to $6 billion.)
The challenge for any team that pursues Spiller becomes figuring out: (1) why his career results have been mixed; and (2) what he can do in 2015 and beyond. Spiller has a career rushing average of 5.0 yards, but that’s bookended by 3.8 as a rookie and 3.8 in his fifth and final season with Buffalo. In Spiller’s second season, a more potent 5.2-yard output emerged. In 2012, he matched Adrian Peterson’s 6.0 yards per carry on 141 fewer tries.
Through his first four seasons, Spiller averaged 5.12 yards per carry. According to a media packet prepared by Spiller’s agent, Chad Speck, it’s the second highest yards per attempt through a player’s first four seasons behind Bo Jackson, who averaged 5.4 yards in his only four NFL season.
Spiller is viewed as a speed back, but the media packet points out that, in 2012 and 2013 combined, 58.4 percent of Spiller’s rushing yards came after contact.
While Spiller is viewed by some as fragile, his profile page at NFL.com shows that he missed only three career games through his first four seasons. (A broken collarbone knocked him out of seven in 2014.) Would he be durable if he’s used as a primary weapon? That’s not known, because throughout most of his career in Buffalo, Spiller shared time with Fred Jackson.
And here’s where the dog starts chasing its tail. Any team that wants Spiller to be a workhorse will have to pay him accordingly. But they won’t know that he can be a workhorse until they pay him accordingly.
Then there’s the question of whether an interested team will use him as a workhorse. Plenty of teams are interested, but who are they interested in? C.J. Spiller as a 20-plus-touch-per-gamer or C.J. Spiller as a change-of-pace Lightning to a primary dose of Thunder?
During a prior visit to PFT Live, Spiller laughed knowingly when the Jets were mentioned. And new Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey definitely used Spiller more effectively than Doug Marrone when Gailey coached the Bills. But Gailey still didn’t make Spiller “the guy.”
Would the Jets, who are interested, make him “the guy”? Would the Patriots or the Dolphins, who also are interested, make him “the guy”?
The Cardinals possibly would; they’re interested in Spiller in the event they don’t land Peterson in trade with the Vikings. Washington has interest, but they also have Alfred Morris, who has three straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career. The Saints are a potential suitor, but they were one of the first franchises to embrace the revolving door approach to tailbacks.
So that’s the real question that will be answered by the magnitude of the offers he receives: Will he be the guy?
Then, if/when he is, the question will be whether he can fill those shoes — and whether he can lace them up on a consistent basis.
I think he can (bias reiterated). But I’m not the one writing the checks.