Maximizing Murray is Eagles’ Only Choice at RB
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — One of Chip Kelly's biggest mistakes as the leader of the Eagles' football operations was his overreach at the running back position.
As most of the league has continued to devalue the position from a financial perspective, Kelly replaced LeSean McCoy's untenable cap number with big-money deals handed out to DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.
Flipping McCoy, the team's all-time leading rusher, for Kiko Alonso was a prudent decision by the former coach even though the linebacker badly underachieved in his attempt to return from a torn ACL. However, Kelly essentially replaced the money he was allocating toward Shady, a natural fit for his offense, to a guy who proved to be a square peg (Murray) and an oft-injured caddie (Mathews).
Murray signed a five-year deal worth $40 million before last season and Mathews inked a three-year deal worth $11 million with Kelly claiming their downhill styles were a better fit for what he wanted to do than McCoy.
The results proved anything but and the new regime of Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson would probably like to move on from Murray even more that the ex-rushing leader would like to move on from Philadelphia but the two sides are likely stuck with each other in 2016 due to salary-cap implications.
It's extremely doubtful that Murray will ever be an 1,800-yard back again as he was in 2014 behind Dallas' impressive offensive front but in a more traditional Pederson-west-coast offense, improvement on 707 yards and 3.6 yards per carry is a necessity.
Murray and Mathews headline the latest edition of 973espn.com’s position-by-position look at the team moving forward to the 2016 season.
DeMarco Murray: Started eight of 15 games, playing 681 snaps, 42 percent of the team’s total. Rated No. 67 of 69 backs by Pro Football Focus.
Ryan Mathews: Started six of 13 games, playing 247 snaps, 21 percent. Rated 47th out of 69 by PFF.
Darren Sproles: Started four of 16 games, playing 394 snaps, 34 percent. Rated 35th out of 69 by PFF.
Kenjon Barner: Appeared in 10 games, playing 79 snaps, 7 percent.
UPCOMING FREE AGENTS:
The Eagles have no impending free agents at the position and have signed former Villanova back Kevin Monangai and ex-Lafayette star Ross Scheuerman to futures deals.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Sproles in now 11th on the NFL's all-time, all-purpose yardage list with 17,903. Next up on the list at No. 10 is former Eagles Herschel Walker at 18,168.
2016 SALARY CAP STATUS:
Murray is set to have a cap hit of $8 million next season, taking up 5.19 percent of the available space. Mathews is due $4 million, Sproles will make 4.5 million and Barner is at $600,000.
If the Eagles want to cut Murray they would incur a $13 million hit. Mathews is at $3 million in dead money if released, and Sproles would cost $1 million if jettisoned.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
"I think a Demarco Murray fits well into what I can bring," Pederson said. "I think there's a unique style there with him. When you go back and look at his tape in Dallas, I think there's some great opportunities with him, more of a downhill-type guy, physical running back."
TOP POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS:
Doug Martin, Matt Forte, James Starks, Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris, Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory, Ronnie Hillman, Chris Johnson, Bilal Powell, LeGarrette Blount
The Eagles don't have a ton of cap flexibility here because of Murray's deal and the cost it would take to move on.
It seems silly to carry three backs with cap hits of $4 million-or-more in today's NFL environment but Philadelphia almost has to because you need Mathews as insurance in case Murray is done physically. Sproles, meanwhile, has been the most effective of the three and remains one of the game's top third-down backs despite his advancing age.
Forget about free agency but if Philadelphia does like a back in the middle rounds of the draft, it's at least conceivable to think they could move on from Sproles, who will be 33 in June, simply because the cap hit there ($1 million) is far less than either Murray or Mathews.
During the lead up to Super Bowl 50 Murray was asked by Pro Football Talk about an NFL Network report that he and the Eagles were "headed toward a stare-down regarding his future with the organization."
"No. I'm signed there for the next four years," he claimed. "I don't know where that story is coming from. It's a little crazy. Every week I feel like there's something new. It's a little weird. I can't worry about what people are saying. I'll just continue to work hard. I'm signed for four years and I'm committed."
A trade is the only way out for both sides and for that to happen Murray would likely need to agree to a significant pay cut.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen