This past offseason, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly bargained for full control over all personnel decisions within the organization, and owner Jeffery Lurie gave it to him. What ensued was a roller coaster of a spring, culminating in a series of Kelly moves that ranged from shocking (LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso) to bold (Nick Foles for Sam Bradford) to breaking news (Tim Tebow).
Along the way, Kelly dished out $40 million for running back DeMarco Murray, and no one player has come to epitomize Kelly’s failures as team’s general manager as much as Murray.
Murray was fresh off a Pro Bowl season with the rival Dallas Cowboys, rushing for a league-high 1,845 yards, and it was likely too much for Kelly to pass down the opportunity to sign a back of Murray’s caliber.
The fanbase was told that Murray’s one-cut running style would thrive in Kelly’s zone-blocking scheme, while McCoy’s home run style made him expendable.
There’s no denying that the warning signs were there, though. Murray’s success came behind the game’s best offensive line, a wall of blockers that even allowed Joseph Randle to rush for 6.9 yards per carry in a part-time role. Murray had led the NFL in regular-season carries (392) – the seventh-highest mark in league history – and he touched the ball nearly 500 times, including the postseason. It’s been statistically proven that running backs see a steep drop-off in production a year after receiving as many as 370 carries in a season.
And at a position that is constantly devalued in today’s NFL, Kelly gave Murray $18 million guaranteed.
While it’s just 11 games into the 2015 season, it’s looking like Kelly made a colossal mistake.
Murray simply isn’t the same player in Philly that he was in Dallas. He’s been repeatedly outplayed by backup Ryan Mathews, a faster, more explosive runner, but Kelly – perhaps operating because of the money he paid Murray – has continued to give Murray the bulk of the workload.
Murray’s ’15 stats aren’t worth the $5 million he’s making this year, and they pale in comparison to his ’14 numbers.
*2014 stats through 11 games
|2014||267 (1st)||1,354 (1st)||5.07 (4th)||7 (T-3rd)|
|2015||155 (11th)||545 (21st)||3.52 (43rd)||4 (T-15th)|
For the 2014 season in entirety, Murray broke 67 tackles, an average of one every 5.85 carries. This year, that number is at 16 tackles, an average of one every 9.68 carries. Last year, he averaged an additional 2.5 yards after he was initially contacted. This year, that number is down to just 1.9, one of the lowest marks in the league.
The simple eye test reveals Murray has been slow and stiff. He doesn’t generate the burst that his counterpart, Mathews gets, and even with Mathews averaging over two yards per carry more (5.7) than Murray (3.5), Kelly continues to feed Murray the ball regularly. Kelly also continues to run Murray to the side, despite Murray being substantially more effective when he’s running between the tackles.
It’s even reached the point that teammates are questioning Murray’s effort, the result stemming from a play against Miami where Murray slid in what looked like an obvious attempt to avoid contact.
What’s most surprising is that Kelly – a man who prides himself in his offensive system – deemed it necessary to dish out $40 million for a running back. This is a league where backups routinely churn out yards almost as effectively as starters; see the case of Seattle going from Marshawn Lynch to Thomas Rawls.
Even Kenjon Barner, a 2013 sixth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, has averaged 4.8 yards on his 14 rushes this season (all coming in the last two games). A backfield of Mathews, Darren Sproles and Barner would surely have allowed Kelly to take the money he paid Murray and use it toward a position (wide receiver?) that more drastically needed an upgrade.
If Kelly isn’t back in 2016, could the new head coach decide to use more of a shared-backfield approach with Murray and Mathews? It’s likely, considering Kelly was the one who brought Murray in. But if Kelly is back as general manager, expect him to continue to utilize Murray as the workhorse back – even if a more productive approach would be splitting carries.
Regardless of who the coach is, Murray’s contract makes it so the Eagles can part ways after ’16. That’s not as bad as a five-year deal that pays out the full $40 million, but still, $18 million guaranteed will be a lot to invest in a middling running back whose production can be found elsewhere for much cheaper.