2013 Stats: Overall, Dallas ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing offense with 1,504 yards. The Cowboys were tied for seventh in yards per attempt at 4.5 and were tied for 18th in touchdowns with 12. They also totaled the second lowest number of attempts with 336 (Atlanta, 321). Starter DeMarco Murray rushed 217 times for 1,121 yards, nine touchdowns and averaged 5.2 yards per rush. Joseph Randle rushed 54 times for 164 yards, two touchdowns and averaged three yards per attempt. Lance Dunbar had 30 attempts for 150 yards and averaged five yards per rush.
Salary: DeMarco Murray ($743K per season, free agent 2015), Joseph Randle ($587K per season, free agent 2017), Ryan Williams ($710K per season, free agent 2015) Ben Malena ($510K per season, free agent 2017) and Lance Dunbar ($480K per season, free agent 2015).
2013 Year in Review: When Dallas makes an effort to run the ball with Murray, they win. The narrative continued in 2013 as Dallas was 3-0 when Murray had at least 20 attempts. In 2011, the Boys were 5-0 when this occurred and 3-0 in 2012.
Despite only playing in 14 games, Murray became Dallas' first 1,000-yard rusher since Julius Jones (1,084 yards) in 2006. It was also only the fourth time a Cowboys running back has rushed for 1,000 yards since 2000 (Emmitt Smith 2000 & 2001).
Fifth-round draft pick Joseph Randle had a disappointing season as Murray's backup. The rookie out of Oklahoma State did gain 65 yards rushing in a 17-3 win over the Eagles, but it took 19 carries to make it happen. Three yards and a cloud of dust is synonymous with Randle.
On Thanksgiving Day, Dunbar was on his way to solidifying his spot as the No. 2 running back (12 carries, 82 yards) when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
2014 season: The future at running back for Dallas is a large question mark as Murray and Dunbar enter the last year on their contracts. Murray is often injured as he has missed eight games over his first three seasons. With the struggles of Randle in 2013, Dallas is taking a flier on former Arizona Cardinals running back and second-round pick (2011) Ryan Williams. In three seasons, Williams only played in five games (three starts) and had 58 attempts for 164 yards (2.8 per attempt) with Arizona.
Hopefully the 2014 season at running back will provide more answers than questions. Murray and Dunbar will both be playing for a new contract, and Randle needs to prove he can handle blocking schemes and break tackles. Pro Football Focus considers Murray a 'high-quality starter' which they only designate for four other Cowboys: Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey. The difference between Murray and those other guys? Money. Bryant should be getting his contract extension before the end of training camp and the other three guys are locked up until at least 2018.
The Cowboys aren't looking to pay for running backs as the position continues to fall down the pecking order in value. In 2006 (the last year Dallas had a 1,000-yard rusher), there were 23 1,000-yard running backs. Last season there were only 13 which is the lowest since at least 2001. Durability at the position is a real concern. When healthy, Murray is a top-5 running back in the league. 'When healthy' is the key phrase.
Bold Prediction: Dunbar will outgain Murray this season.
Eddie Middlebrook can be reached on Twitter@emiddlebrook.