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NFL Draft Preview: Cowboys seek Murray’s replacement

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IRVING, Tex. — The Dallas Cowboys entered the offseason with the main objectives of finding a way to keep receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray in the fold, while also improving the defense to possibly make a Super Bowl run in 2015.

The Cowboys went 50 percent on the former and struck it big on the latter with the controversial signing of defensive end Greg Hardy.

Bryant was given the franchise tag, guaranteeing him $12.823 million next season. The two sides have been unable to come to terms on a long-term deal and the Cowboys seem content on letting him play under the franchise tag.

Bryant wants a long-term deal but will be hard pressed to turn his nose up at roughly $13 million.

As much as the Cowboys appreciated Murray’s record-breaking season and wanted him to return, they never intended to break the bank to keep the league’s reigning rushing champ. Murray signed a five-year, $42 million deal with the rival Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys never came close.

The Cowboys believe their success on the ground in 2014 was led by the NFL’s best offensive line. They still are focused on having a top-notch running back and have fleeting hopes of acquiring Vikings star Adrian Peterson in a trade.

When the Cowboys restructured quarterback Tony Romo’s contract to clear room for the signing of Hardy, they also carved enough space to make a deal for Peterson. That will likely happen (if it does) on or near draft day.

Short of getting Peterson, the Cowboys have their sights set on getting a running back on the first or second day of the draft.

They have certainly done their homework, bringing in several top backs for pre-draft visits, including first-round options Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.

That the Cowboys signed veteran Darren McFadden gives them some insurance that they don’t have to force a need and will take a running back when value dictates.

The Cowboys re-signed right tackle Doug Free to solidify the offensive line and they secured third-receiver Cole Beasley, a restricted free agent, with a multi-year contract extension. They took a major step toward improving the defense with the addition of Hardy on an incentive-laden one-year deal.

Hardy, who played the last four years with Panthers, missed 15 games last year on the commissioner’s exempt list because of a domestic violence charge.

He faces a 10-game suspension in 2015, pending appeal. But the Cowboys believe his talent and impact are worth the wait and the gamble. He will be on the field in December and hopefully the playoffs when they need an impact pass rusher.

The addition of Hardy, the re-signing of middle linebacker Rolando McClain and the return to health of Sean Lee gives the Cowboys three difference makers in the front seven. Again it also allows the Cowboys to head into the draft focused on taking the best player available.

And that just may be a cornerback, which has jumped to possibly the team’s most pressing need.

The Cowboys brought in potential first-round cornerbacks like Marcus Peters, Kevin Jones and Byron Jones. All are potential options for the Cowboys with the 27th overall pick.

2014 Record: 12-4, 1st in NFC East

First Draft Pick: #27 Overall

BEST FIT: CB Marcus Peters, Washington

The Cowboys have needs a cornerback, running back and defensive end. The draft is deep in running backs and there is not likely be a difference-making pass rusher at No. 27. Peters has the tools to be impact player at cornerback and immediately upgrade a position of need.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Cornerback: The Cowboys needed another cornerback before getting involved in a contract dispute with Orlando Scandrick, who is staying away from the offseason program. Brandon Carr is being forced to take a pay cut or be cut and Morris Claiborne may not be ready for the start of camp. The Cowboys brought in top corners Marcus Peters, Jalen Collins, Byron Jones and Kevin Johnson for pre-draft visits.

2. Running back: The Cowboys are searching far and wide for a replacement for DeMarco Murray. They are hoping to trade for Vikings star Adrian Peterson. They also could take one in the first two rounds of the draft. They brought in several top backs including Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi and T.J. Yeldon for pre-draft visits. There is no secret they will have a new starting tailback next year among this bunch or Peterson.

3. Defensive end: The Cowboys signed defensive end Greg Hardy to address the need at pass rusher. But you can never have too many rushers. Hardy is just signed to a one-year deal and could be suspended for four-to-six games. The Cowboys had just 28 sacks last season, including 9.5 from the defensive end position.


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