Why DeMarco Murray may be the biggest free agent bust this season
The Eagles’ fan base was at breaking point entering Week 13, after three losses to sub-.500 teams left them floundering at 4-7. After seizing power over personnel moves last year, Kelly was coming under particular criticism for signing DeMarco Murray to a big-money free agent contract and trading away franchise-leading rusher LeSean McCoy.
Against the Patriots, Murray’s playing time dropped significantly, even below that of Kenjon Barner’s. Darren Sproles played well, recording a better single-game rushing grade than Murray has all season.
DeMarco Murray’s regression
DeMarco Murray finished as our fifth-overall running back in 2014; his rushing grade was second behind only Marshawn Lynch. This year, Murray is way down at 63rd out of 67 qualifying running backs. The Eagles’ line is not as good as the one he played behind in Dallas, which has played a role in his regression, but Murray hasn’t looked nearly as decisive as he did in 2014, and is struggling to pick lanes when running outside zone, in particular. He’s only breaking a tackle every eight rushes, compared to every five rushes a year ago, and isn’t gaining as much yardage after contact, either. It’s no surprise Kelly decided to reduce his workload in Week 13.
Analyzing the decision
Chip Kelly is finding that personnel moves in the NFL are far from straightforward. Murray was just coming off his best season, as outlined above, while LeSean McCoy was coming off his worst. In fact, McCoy finished as our worst graded running back in 2014. Kelly essentially replaced an under-performing player for one that seemed to be in his prime. Seems like an easy decision, but then again, there were nagging concerns about the fact Murray had carried 437 times that season. Fast-forward a year, and McCoy is playing much better. He’s recorded a +4.1 rushing grade so far for the Bills, which is just outside the top 15 running backs. McCoy’s numbers compare pretty favorably to Murray’s.
The Eagles also signed Ryan Mathews from the Chargers in the offseason. He’s been injured the past few weeks, but has easily out-performed Murray when he has been on the field. Mathews is breaking a tackle about every five to six rushes, and has an impressive 3.2 yards after contact per attempt, which is fourth-best in the league. However, his health was a serious issue in San Diego, and it’s a factor Kelly must have considered when contemplating signing Matthews. The former Charger’s concussion must be serious, seeing as he’s missed the past three weeks.
Finally, Darren Sproles has more modest numbers, but gave the Eagles’ offense a spark early in the game against the Patriots with Sam Bradford rejoining him the backfield.
The upshot is that Kelly’s decision to sign Murray and trade McCoy doesn’t look very good with the benefit of hindsight. The offense has regressed since he took over. The jury remains out on Chip, GM. Despite his slow start, it would be unwise to discount the possibility that Murray will return to his outstanding form of 2014. Either way, the Eagles are financially committed to him for at least another couple of years, so they are compelled to make it work.