These are the things we learned Friday when DeMarco Murray retired from football.
Life is precious for all of us, but for running backs it is precious and short. Emmitt Smith, you have nothing to worry about. Ezekiel Elliott, don't count on that second contract. And you Cowboys were right (sort of) when you let Murray go.
There's plenty to chew on here, but let's start with this. Murray was a very good running back but only briefly a great one. In 2014, everything he had to offer came together (it happened, not coincidentally, to be Zack Martin's rookie season) and he set the Cowboys record with 1,845 yards rushing. Better than Tony, better than Emmitt, better than Duane or Calvin or anyone you can think of for a single season.
And then the Cowboys let him walk.
It's not as simple as glancing at the numbers in order to say whether the team was right or wrong. The Cowboys suffered through a bad season with Joseph Randle, the original starter before Darren McFadden relieved him and produced 1,000 yards in limited time. The team was 4-12 and opposing defenses didn't care that McFadden was racking up a few yards.
Murray was awful that season with Philadelphia, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, but Chip Kelly's system hardly suited him and other Eagles fared only a little better before Kelly was dismissed. Here is what we can say. There is a history of backs suffering major drops in production after carrying a heavy load in the 400-carry range.
It includes Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson, Ricky Williams, Tiki Barber, Jamal Lewis, Michael Turner and more. After their huge seasons, their averages tumble and their careers are over sooner than expected.
In Murray's case, he carried the ball 392 times and caught 57 passes in 2014. All season he said he was fine with the load. Got 48 more touches in the postseason.
At the end of that year, Murray had averaged 4.8 yards per carry in four years with Dallas. In the three seasons that followed with Philadelphia and Tennessee, he averaged 3.9. Then he retired a few months beyond his 30th birthday.
This is the way of today's NFL. The worst thing you can have attached to your name as a running back is the word "veteran." Kansas City's Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing last season. Not only was he a rookie, Hunt was a third-round pick. Talk about reducing the perceived value of running backs everywhere.
This came one year after Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie. His six-game suspension caused him to fall to 10th a year ago, but he remained typical of that first level of backs. Six of the top 10 were in their third season or less. And you don't really want to be one of the other four backs right now.
The Saints' Mark Ingram (who was in his 7th year) is suspended and losing playing time anyway to Alvin Kamara, a dynamic rookie in 2017. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, arguably the top back in the league since arriving on the scene in 2013, is still battling the Steelers to get that second contract. Denver's C.J. Anderson (5th year) is now Carolina backup C.J. Anderson. And Buffalo's LeSean McCoy (9th year) has his own issues to settle before returning to the game.
Bell as a player and Bell as a guy who has to fight for his money most closely resemble Elliott's best-case scenario. The Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Elliott for 2020. They have three seasons to "feed" him as he illustrates is his desire after virtually every first down. This team is built to rely on Elliott. After three more seasons with that approach, what's the likelihood the Cowboys go where they were unwilling to with Murray following a record-busting season?
There once was a feeling in this league that you could find wide receivers everywhere, but today that's more the general sense with running backs. Murray's retirement, just a year removed from his second most productive season (1,664 total yards for the Titans) reminds us that the clock is ticking at high speed for all these guys.
And it's why Smith can rest easy regarding his NFL rushing record. We believed a few years back that Adrian Peterson, having just rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his sixth pro season, would challenge Smith. At 33, he can't find work and he's still more than 6,000 yards short of Smith's 18,355.
As for Murray, had he magically found a way to reproduce his first seven seasons and double his output between now and his 37th birthday?
Still 4,000 yards short of Emmitt.
Some records aren't made to be broken in today's NFL.
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com