More On Murray’s Plane Ride With Lurie

Photo by Jeff Fusco

DeMarco Murray. (USA Today Sports)

The sitdown wasn’t planned, exactly, but it wasn’t happenstance either.

DeMarco Murray had been wanting to speak with Jeffrey Lurie for the last several weeks, per a league source, and that conversation ended up taking place on the plane ride back from New England following a win over the Patriots in which Murray played just 14 snaps.

The 27-year-old back apparently struck up a good rapport with the owner from the jump. Shortly after signing his five-year, $40 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, Lurie invited him to his private residence in Florida (an invitation he has extended to many players over the years, including others in this most recent free-agent class), and they have maintained a relationship in the months since. So Murray felt comfortable expressing his frustrations to Lurie about his role in the offense, as Ed Werder reported.

The issue seems to be two-fold. Part one is comfort in the scheme, from some of the run designs to operating with the quarterback in shotgun.

“I think DeMarco is more comfortable when [the quarterback] is under center,” said Lane Johnson. “That’s what he was used to in Dallas. I think it just gives him more time to read the blocks being back there.”

Per Werder, 91 percent of Murray’s runs in 2014 were with the QB under center compared to 16 percent this season in Philly, which is the lowest in the NFL.

The second part is playing time. He carried the ball eight times against the Patriots despite the absence of Ryan Mathews and has averaged less than 15 carries per game so far on the season.

If you pay someone big money to be your primary back, why not tailor runs to fit his strengths and feed him more?

The latter part of that question is pretty simple to answer: Murray has not been productive. He’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry on the season, which ranks him 41st among backs with at least 6.25 attempts per game, according to ESPN. Mathews (5.7 yards per rush) has been the more effective option when healthy.

And it’s a crowded backfield. Between Mathews, Darren Sproles (3.8 yards/carry) and Kenjon Barner (4.6 ypa on 23 carries), there are other mouths to feed.

The first part is a little tougher to explain. Kelly obviously has strong beliefs about his system and has seen a myriad of backs have success within its confines, but Murray clearly is not thriving in it.

Is it incumbent upon the staff to find the best plays to suit the player, or is it more on the back to fit in?

“I think it’s a bit of both,” said Johnson. “I think DeMarco has been in a system where it’s different than what he’s been used to coming here. We do a lot of different stuff than what Dallas does so it’s just an adjustment period; it’s going to take time. Sproles and Kenjon have been in this system for a little bit.

“He’s still a great player. It just goes to show when you enter a different scheme sometimes it takes a while to get adjusted and things like that, but he’ll come around.”

The money tied into all of this suggests an Eagles-Murray split would be tough to pull off in the short-term. Murray’s $7 million base salary is fully guaranteed next season. The Eagles would face a dead cap charge of $13 million in 2016 if they released him.

It stands to reason, then, that it is in everybody’s best interest to find a way to work together; Murray is here for the time being. And while he hasn’t looked quite as explosive as in years past, he has rushed for over 5,000 yards in less than five seasons in this league and in theory should have something left in the tank. And obviously, the preference on the Eagles end is to have one of their big free-agent acquisitions happy and paying dividends.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all this is why Murray felt the need to express these frustrations to Lurie in the first place. Kelly, as both coach and head of personnel, has all the incentive in the world to make this work. While it’s possible that Murray broached these issues with the head coach previously, the sense is that Murray felt more comfortable speaking to Lurie rather than Kelly about the matter, which is no small thing. Even if that’s the case, it seems that the best course of action would have been to exhaust all options with Kelly before moving a step above him.

The timing of this is bad. The Eagles are coming off a big win over the Patriots, and are trying to link shield to shield for one final push over the last quarter of the season. This does not exactly speak to a unified front.

Kelly right now is probably feeling all the joys of being head coach/de facto GM. He needs to win now. He needs to play the most productive guys. He needs to consider the long-term investment. He needs to weigh scheme flexibility versus core philosophies. He needs to be wary of how all of these things effect the gentle balance inside a 53-man locker room.

He needs to get a handle on this situation. And Murray needs to not let his frustrations cloud the truth, which is that he bears a good deal of the responsibility for his lack of productivity.