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December 26, 2015

Can the Eagles rid themselves of DeMarco Murray?

Eagles NFL

Yesterday, many of you faked excitement when you opened up that ugly pastel tie your aunt bought you for Christmas. Today, if you'd like, you can run over to T.J. Maxx and return it. Unfortunately, unlike that crappy tie, the Eagles cannot return DeMarco Murray to Dallas.

When the Eagles signed Murray to a five-year deal worth $40 million, nobody expected him to replicate what he did with the Cowboys in 2014, when he rushed for 1845 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, Murray has been dreadful in 2015, carrying the ball 176 times for 606 yards, which is an atrocious average of 3.4 yards per carry.

Murray has been so ineffective that he is now essentially the Eagles' third running back. Over the last three games, the Eagles have let him carry the ball 21 times, or seven carries per game. Over that three game stretch, Murray has rushed for 61 yards on 2.9 yards per carry.

And Murray isn't happy. After the Eagles' biggest win of the season, Murray reportedly complained about his playing time to owner Jeffrey Lurie on the team's charter plane trip home. After the Eagles' loss to the Cardinals in which Murray only carried the ball twice, Murray reportedly threw his helmet in frustration as he entered the locker room:

If that four-letter word beginning with "F" was "fail," then I agree.

What seems to be clear is that the Eagles would love to take a mulligan on Murray's contract, and Murray would probably be happier playing elsewhere. Essentially, the Eagles have three potential course of action:

  1. If the Eagles keep Murray in 2016, he'll count for $8 million against the salary cap. 
  2. If the Eagles cut Murray, he'll cost $13 million against their salary cap.
  3. If the Eagles trade Murray, he'll cost $4 million against their salary cap.

Let's address each possibility one at a time:

Keep Murray:

As noted, if the Eagles keep Murray, he'll cost $8 million against the cap in 2016. While Murray's season has been disastrous, it's not as if he has been completely useless. On 3rd/4th and short situations so far in 2015, Murray has 15 carries for 88 yards and a TD. On every single one of those 3rd/4th and short rushing attempts, Murray either scored or picked up a first down. 15 for 15. At a minimum, Murray remains an incredibly effective short yardage back.

Would you want to pay a short yardage specialist $8 million per season? Obviously, no, but the damage there is already done. It's not as if Murray wouldn't clearly be one of the 45 best players on game day on this roster, unlike, say, a guy like Miles Austin, who was hurting the Eagles both financially proved no value whatsoever on the field.

Cut Murray:

As noted above, at a minimum, Murray is a good short yardage back. If you're an optimist, maybe Murray will play significantly better in 2016, and be a player somewhere in between what he was in 2014 and 2015. 

But as far as paying an extra $5 million in cap space to get Murray off the roster, the guy complained to the owner about playing time. That is in no way whatsoever worth flushing $5 million down the toilet so you can rid yourself of him. That money can be used to help get a contract extension done with Fletcher Cox, or signing a free agent this offseason who can help the team. Cutting Murray and wasting $5 million would arguably be worse than the contract the Eagles signed him to in the first place. Until Murray murders someone, this "possibility" (it really isn't one) should be off the table.

Trade Murray:

As noted above, Murray would count for $4 million against the Eagles' cap if they can trade him. They would actually save $4 million of the $8 million cap charge he'd cost if he stayed on the team. Plus, you'd actually get something for him. From the Eagles' perspective, they'd say "YES PLEASE!"

The trouble is, who would trade for his contract? The short answer is probably nobody, but his contract wouldn't exactly look the same with a potential new team than it looks currently with the Eagles.

To begin, most of the guaranteed portion of Murray's contract will have already been paid by the Eagles. Here's a snapshot of Murray's current contract:

His prospective new team would be on the hook for Murray's $7 million salary in 2016 alone, as well as his $7.5 million per-year salaries in 2017, 2018, and 2019, noted above. They would also be on the hook for $2 million guaranteed in 2017, and his $500,000 roster bonuses if they kept him in 2017, 2018, and 2019. They would not be on the hook for the $1 million "prorated" portion of the contract each year, as that has already been paid by the Eagles, which would lower his cap hit by $1 million each year for his new team.

Any team trading for Murray would be able to get out of the contract with Murray without a lot of pain if he continued to be ineffective. From Murray's perspective, those $7.5 million salaries in 2017, 2018, and 2019 are worth noting if he were to be cut, as he would also be playing without much in the way of guarantees.

The problem any new team trading for Murray would have would be paying him the yearly salary of $7+ million, even without much in the way of guaranteed money. If Murray were amenable to working out a new deal with a prospective new team that would give him more guaranteed money, but benefit his new team by lowering his yearly salary, than maybe a trade for extremely minimal compensation (a seventh round pick?) could be worked out.

Unfortunately, (A) those deals are very difficult to work out in the NFL, and (B) running backs just aren't worth the trouble, especially when they're going to be 28 in February, they're ineffective, and they bitch to the owner when they're not being used the way they'd like.

In other words, prepare yourselves for Murray to remain in Philly in 2016.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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